The storm came much faster than anybody expected and it was one of white shirts, furiously attacking, running from deep, passing the ball around quickly, threatening at each occasion. Crowds followed, loudly approving Poland’s efforts in the first half of Euro 2012 opening game, as Piszczek stormed past Samaras again and again, Lewandowski won his physical battles with Greek defenders, and Błaszczykowski’s fluent movement made it almost impossible to catch him. The wave that lasted 45 minutes.
If to believe the reports, it was a very calm Poland’s dressing room during the half time, as everyone knew what just happened, how huge chance was ahead of them and that advantage cannot be wasted. Kuba Błaszczykowski came out saying that Poles wanted to keep possession. Wojciech Szczęsny noted that they were to keep their attacking approach. Eugen Polanski claimed that there was uncertainty over what to do next. Yet the most clueless man of all that gathered at the National Stadium – keeping the referee apart for a while – was on the sideline, looking nervously as his side collapses.
When Franciszek Smuda took the much desired role of Poland manager, he promised that his team will play with flair and style previously unknown at the international level. When you look at how attacking, how fluent and how stylish “the Chosen Ones” were during first 45 minutes, many believed that he kept his word. But it was them, not manager, who simply developed into a class players, becoming familiar to the football of Dortmund, rather than Smuda’s Lech, another reference he made just before the tournament. It was his job to put the most obvious performers in the attacking positions and then just observe and intervene whenever there is a need. There is where the failure came.
Obraniak’s disappearance, Błaszczykowski’s frustration, Lewandowski’s sudden inability, Murawski’s and Polanski’s cluelessness, Rybus’ anonymity… Count Lukasz Piszczek in, who faded away as the game went on, rarely moving forward despite numerous advantage. It was a loud cry for a change, for a solution to a problem that almost cost Poland the opening game.
Smuda never heard that one, or even if he had so, he misjudged it completely – for example, he kept Kamil Grosicki almost prepared for a sub and once he decided it is the right moment, it was 91st minute of the game.
He was the one who, in Poland, was regarded as the manager who can read the game well, change it with a clever sub, make unexpected move that will make his team play the way he wants again. For all the talk about lack of competitive football in the last years of preparation, it was not Szczęsny who failed to cope with the pressure, but Smuda himself. When the moment of great test came, with failure in the making just in front of his eyes, he simply wasn’t sure. He hesitated. He doubted. He decided that doing nothing is better than changing things – a clear sign that he doesn’t trust his subs and neither he trusts himself.
Of course, Smuda’s words from Thursday’s press conference have to be taken in account – he claimed that if, after seventy minutes of the opening game, there will be a draw, Greece will close their game and he won’t be doing the opposite, such is the stake of the game. Unfortunately, it is not how he behaved with twenty minutes to go – the damage was already done – it is how he failed to adapt and recognize the danger as soon as the collapse has started.
But, again, his luck allowed him to survive, be given a space to breathe, learn this lesson. The Russia match is even a greater test than rather disappointing and average Greeks, especially after their strong show off against Czech Republic. There will be even more ball played near Poland’s defence, and not in the air, as it was on Friday at the national stadium. Russians will threaten with fluency and quality from even higher level than Polish team has.
Whatever negative reaction Smuda will get, there is no doubt that the players can deliver on this level. There is a question, though, whether it can happen throughout the group stage or even for whole 90 minutes – but doubts should only concern the individuals and their class, it is a rather a question of them functioning as a team. We have seen how dependable they are of each other and when there is no support from the bench, the collapse may be as much painful as spectacular.
There is no doubt that Czech’s may end up as the weakest team of the tournament, yet even if Michal Bilek is facing deserved critique, he did well to turn around situation in the second half, showing at least willingness to risk an early sub. His balanced midfield did not cope well with Russians but Czechs, when introduced additional defensive minded midfielder, felt more assured and played much better after the break.
Many say that despite high victory, the overall performance of Advocaat’s team was not as good to think they may end up top of Group A easily. But even with more defensive approach of Russian full-backs, they were very dangerous on the break and only a midfield that will match man-to-man theirs will have a chance to destabilize their shape. Hubschman’s introduction did just that, while subbing Jiracek off opened Czechs again.
But will Smuda go for it on Tuesday? He doesn’t have a choice, he will go for the same shape and names, only possibly making changes earlier – only worry can be his stubbornness and reluctance over critique, only to prove others wrong. On yesterday’s evidence, he is the only manager in Group A to do so…