Bundesliga winners spearhead Poland′s Euro 2012 campaign | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 08.06.2012
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Bundesliga winners spearhead Poland's Euro 2012 campaign

Kyiv in Ukraine gets to host the final, but it is co-hosts Poland who will compete in the first Euro 2012 game against Greece later on Friday. The Poles, buoyed by Bundesliga stars, aim to delight fans in Warsaw.

Football fans in Warsaw, Athens - and perhaps in the Ruhr valley in Germany - will eagerly watch the opening game of Euro 2012.

Joint hosts Poland will play their first competitive game in over two years against Greece in Warsaw at 6 p.m. local time (1600 GMT). Poland and Ukraine both received automatic tournament berths as hosts, unlike the other 14 competitors who played a series of qualification matches.

Coach Francisek Smuda's side is ranked just 62 in the world, but heads into the competition unbeaten in six friendly matches, having won five of them. Six is the magic number at the tournament; that's how many games the winning side will ultimately play.

The Polish Euro 2012 team, posing for a photo

Coach Francisek Smuda has faith in his side, who might be a little rusty after two years of friendlies

At major tournaments, however, the Poles have won just three games in 30 years. Friday's opener against fellow underdogs Greece is perhaps their best chance to improve upon that record.

"Am I going to sleep well tonight? Yes, I surely will," coach Smuda told the uefa.com website. "Just before very important matches I have trouble sleeping, but this team has convinced me that I can rely on them; they have convinced me in every way during the last two-and-a-half years."

Three champions worth watching

The Polish squad is by no means the most star-studded in the tournament, but it boasts a trio of fan favorites in Dortmund who have become rather accustomed to success.

Attacking full back Lukasz Piszczek, speedy winger Jakub Blaszczykowski and versatile front-man Robert Lewandowski all enjoyed stellar seasons with Bundesliga champions and German Cup winners Borussia Dormtund.

Dortmund players celebrate their league title, with Kuba holding the trophy and Lewandowski stood to his left - both in the foreground

Poland's Dortmund lads won two major trophies this season - they'd surely love a hat trick

Piszczek, singled out by many as a potential weak link in the Dortmund squad earlier in the season, has blossomed into one the finest right backs in the German top division. Ever-present in coach Jürgen Klopp's side, he competed in 32 of Dortmund's 34 league fixtures, scored four, set up another eight goals, and most remarkably of all received just one yellow card in the entire campaign.

Proof-reader's nightmare Jakub Blaszczykowski - better known as Kuba - was expected to play a supporting role at most in Dortmund's season. Injuries to key playmakers Shinji Kagawa and then Mario Götze freed up some space in the middle of the park, which Kuba ably filled. With six goals and 10 assists, the speed-demon also finished the season on a high, bagging a brace in Dortmund's last league match against Freiburg.

Added firepower

"A major tournament in our home country - that's the chance of a lifetime," striker Robert Lewandowski told Kicker magazine recently. It's an interesting choice of phrase considering that he grabbed the last chance he was given at club level with both hands, and refused to let go.

The 23-year-old went into this season as a frustrated substitute in the Ruhr valley, but Lewandowski performed so far above expectations when given a chance up front that he sent a Dortmund hero packing to the Chinese Super League. Lewandowski filled in for the injured Lucas Barrios up front early in the season, hitting such a rich vein of form that Barrios never reclaimed his spot in the side. The Paraguayan international has since signed with Guangzhou Evergrande FC.

Lewandowski scored 22 for Dortmund, created another 10, and developed his skill and strength in possession - he is now comfortable both facing the goal and holding the ball up with his back to defenders.

Lewandowski celebrates his crucial goal in Dortmund's key Bundesliga win over Bayern Munich, jumping and punching the air in delight

This Lewandowski goal against Bayern Munich was arguably the most important of the entire Bundesliga season

Should Poland delight their home fans and confound the bookmakers over the next few weeks, it's likely that these Bundesliga stalwarts will play a major role.

Euro 2004 winners Greece are their first opponents in the group stage, followed by Russia and then the Czech Republic - with those two sides squaring off in Friday's later fixture. No group is easy in the European Championships, but Poland's would be the envy of a side like Germany.

A recent tabloid poll in the Polish tabloid "Fakt" suggested over a quarter of participants believed the white-and-reds could win the whole tournament. That's perhaps an ambitious fan's perspective, but don't rule out a surprise run from the co-hosts.

Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Timothy Jones