Polska / Poland
- Capital: Warsaw / Warszawa
- Official Languages: Polish
- Nicknames: Biało-czerwoni (The White and Reds); Orły (The Eagles – men’s team); Orłice (The Eaglesses – women’s team)
- Association: Polski Związek Piłki Nożnej (PZPN)
- FIFA Code: POL
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Third Place (1974, 1982)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Quarter Finals (2016)
- Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 5th (August 2017)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 27th (December 2005)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 78th (November 2013)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 36th (June 2018)
- Most Capped Player: Robert Lewandowski – 119 caps [as of June 2021]
- Top Scorer: Robert Lewandowski – 66 goals [as of June 2021]
The Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita Polska) is a large country situated in central-eastern Europe and possesses a shoreline on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea. It shares a number of land borders with its neighbours, with the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia and Lithuania to its northeast, Belarus to its east, Ukraine to its southeast, Czechia and Slovakia to its south, and Germany to its west. The country has a long and eventful history within European history with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth occupying large swathes of land in Eastern Europe between the 16th and 18th centuries, however Poland was eventually divided amongst the Prussian, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian empires in the late 18th century. The Polish state would be re-established following the end of the First World War, with its current borders defined with the conclusion of the Second World War.
Football was first brought to the country during the divided period with the Austro-Hungarian controlled areas of Poland, in particularly Kraków and Lemburg (now Lviv in Ukraine, and known as Lwów in Polish), being the first cities to fully embrace the game after being inspired and encouraged by the insurgent football scene in the empire’s capital of Vienna – one of the main centres of football thinking outside of Britain in the early 20th century. The PZPN was founded in 1919 when the country finally re-emerged in Europe, with Poland playing its first official fixture two years later in a 1-0 defeat to Hungary in Budapest, before joining FIFA in 1923. Poland qualified for their first World Cup in 1938 overcoming the Yugoslavian team in qualifying to take on Brazil in the Round of 16 of the tournament held in France. In a high-scoring match, they were unfortunately defeated 6-5 after extra time, with Poland’s first football superstar, Ernest “Ezi” Wilimowski, scoring four of Poland’s five goals.
Poland’s golden era would appear between the 1970s and 1980s, starting with the team winning the gold medal in the 1972 Olympics football tournament. The Orły later qualified for the 1974 World Cup, their first since 1938, where they famously eliminated England during the qualification phase. In their second World Cup, they impressed the football world by beating Argentina, Haiti, and Italy to top their First Round group, before defeating Sweden and Yugoslavia in the Second Round group stage to be within a chance of qualifying for the final. Alas, they lost their final group game 1-0 to the hosts West Germany, but subsequently qualified for the Third Place playoff, where they defeated Brazil 1-0 with a Grzegorz Lato goal to confirm their position as one of the best teams in international football. The 1974 World Cup would be the first of four consecutive global tournaments that the Polish side would qualify for.
Poland would repeat the fortunes of the West German campaign eight years later for España ‘82. The team started slowly with goalless draws against Italy and Cameroon in the first two group games, but a 5-1 thumping of Peru in the final group game resulted in the Polish side finishing top of their group once again. They would then win their second round group, beating Belgium and drawing to the Soviet Union to qualify for the semi-finals, where they faced Italy once again in the final four. Sadly they were unable to defeat Italy (on their way to the title) losing 2-0 in Barcelona, but managed to earn themselves another third place finish when they defeated a talented but roughed-up French side 3-2 in Alicante.
Sadly since that high point in 1982, Polish football suffered a slow decline throughout the following decades. They reached the Round of 16 in the 1986 World Cup, but would then fail to qualify for any of the World Cups organised throughout the 1990s. The 21st century has seen some modicum of success for the White & Reds with the side qualifying for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, but they failed to progress from the group stage on both occasions. They did manage to finally qualify for their first ever European Championships in 2008, and even co-hosted the tournament with Ukraine in 2012, but again they were unable to progress beyond the group stages of both continental tournaments.
The hopes of the nation have increased somewhat with a talented generation of players progressing into the national team, spearheaded by the world-class forward Robert Lewandowski. Poland achieved their best-ever Euros performance in Euro 2016 when they reached the quarter-finals of the competition. Finishing second in the group behind Germany, and staying undefeated during the group phase, Poland overcame Switzerland in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw. In the quarter-finals, they would encounter another shootout after a 1-1 draw, this time to eventual champions Portugal, but agonisingly lost on penalties 5-3. This success was followed up with qualification for the 2018 World Cup – their first World Cup in three attempts. Sadly they massively underperformed during the group stage (they were ranked 8th in the world prior to the tournament), losing to both Senegal and Colombia to finish bottom of the group despite managing to beat Japan 1-0 in their final group game. Poland did manage to qualify for this summer’s European Championships – their fourth Euros in a row by finishing top of their qualifying group, and have maintained their position within the top tier of European football by securing their place in the next edition of the UEFA Nations League.
Talking about one of the best sides in international football throughout the 1970s and 1980s who have qualified for the past four European Championships and are within the top tier of the UEFA Nations League, is the excellent Łukasz Kotecki. He is a blogger who reports on all things involving Polish football, either news coming from the domestic leagues and the Ekstraklasa in particular, or the Polish national teams, all in the format of the English language. To find their social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @LukaszKotecki
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
The best player Poland has ever had is Robert Lewandowski. You can go back to the 1970s and find many great Polish footballers, but the times were much different back then and the Polish team had much more skill surrounding its stars. Whereas Lewandowski is by far the best player since he’s become a national team player because he hasn’t had the greatest supporting cast around him. As far as best coach, it has to be Kazimierz Górski from those teams in the 70s. Beside his success and legend status in Poland when he was a coach, but Poland hasn’t exactly had the best coaches throughout their history.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
In the past, it’s the players from the 1970s teams, such as Włodzimierz Lubański [forward who scored 48 goals in 75 caps for Poland between 1963-1980, and is second in Poland’s all-time goalscorers list] and Grzegorz Lato [winger who scored 45 goals in 100 caps for Poland between 1971-1984, and is third highest goalscorer and fourth most capped player in Poland’s history], and also the current Polish football president Zbigniew Boniek [highly talented attacking midfielder who appeared 80 times for Poland and scored 24 goals, and came third in the 1982 Ballon d’Or award]. Present is Lewandowski for sure. He’s an icon in Poland. No bigger sport star in our country then Lewandowski. Every kid looks up to him.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Poland currently?
Lewandowski of course, coming off a 41 goal season with Bayern Munich, but also Piotr Zieliński [27-year-old midfielder]. He’s had a great success, took a leadership role at Napoli and was their star player this season, recording 8 goals and 10 assists this past season in Seria A.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
Poland is in a transition period at the wrong time. Gone are several key players from the past teams such as Jakub Błaszczykowski [35-year-old winger currently at Wisła Kraków], Łukasz Piszczek [36-year-old right-back scheduled to play for ŁKS Goczałkowice-Zdrój after 11 years at Borussia Dortmund], and Kamil Grosicki [33-year-old winger currently a free agent having left West Bromwich Albion in the summer], also 33-year-old centre-back Kamil Glik [currently playing for Italian side Benevento] will probably end his national team career after the European Championships, and the next wave of talent isn’t exactly ready to take over the national team yet. Going into the Euros, Poland has changed coaches [appointing Portuguese coach Paulo Sousa in January 2021] due to poor play and have struggled in the games leading up to the tournament.
Q. Are there any Polish players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
The biggest young star is 17-year-old central midfielder Kacper Kozłowski [currently playing for Pogoń Szczecin], who is expected to play and thus become the youngest player to ever appear at the European Championships. On the team is 21-year-old centre-back Kamil Piątkowski who is moving to RB Salzburg from Raków Częstochowa after the Euros, and he is also highly rated. There is several key players from Kozłowski’s birth year (2003) or even younger that has people excited, most notably Oliwier Slawiński (17-year-old striker at Zagłębie Lubin), Mateusz Musiałowski (17-year-old attacking midfielder currently in Liverpool’s academy), and Michał Karbownik (20-year-old left-back, right-back, or defensive midfielder currently playing for Brighton & Hove Albion).
Q. Looking at Poland’s long international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
The 1974 World Cup and the 2016 European Championships are the two best tournaments for Poland. In 1974 Poland finished in 3rd place [beating Brazil 1-0 in the Third Place playoff], and in 2016 lost to Portugal in the quarter-finals [losing 5-3 on penalties after drawing 1-1].
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
Too many to list. Poland had a long poor run from late 1980s to early 2000s. Even then, they struggled in tournaments but at least they began qualifying for them. 2008 was the first time Poland qualified for the European Championships.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Polish national team?
Bad – all the losing. Good – a large away following at every game, loud and loyal fan base. When Poland is winning, there is no better team to be rooting for. You can feel the excitement in the entire nation.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
Other than the national anthem, not really.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
There isn’t one which immediately springs to mind.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Polish national team?
I do believe in our “golden generation” which begins with the 2003 birth year players. You can also call it the “Lewandowski generation“. Poland finally had a star, and kids looked up to him and made the popularity of the sport just be so much greater. In the future prospects question previously, I only listed a handful of players, but between the 2003 birth year class and the 2005 birth year class, there are easily about 10 players who could become stars from that group if they continue their development. And unlike other generations where if a star comes up he becomes a lone wolf, theres a handful of players who will already be there by the time they are old enough, like Piątkowski, Jakub Moder [22-year-old midfielder at Brighton & Hove Albion], Kamil Jóźwiak [23-year-old winger currently at Derby County], Sebastian Szymański [22-year-old midfielder playing at Dynamo Moscow], Sebastian Walukiewicz [21-year-old defender at Cagliari], and Bartosz Białek [19-year-old forward currently at VfL Wolfsburg]. The future is exciting for Poland. I believe our best is yet to come.
A massive dziękuję ci bardzo to Łukasz for answering our questions on the Orły. Remember you can find their social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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