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Poland Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

:Headline: Poland Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player:
Ahead of this summer's European Championship, Sports Mole assesses the chances of a Poland side which cruised comfortably through the qualifying process.
Sports Mole

With a team built around the current World Player of the Year, the prospects of Poland emerging from a finely-balanced group at this summer's Euro 2020 can be considered more than reasonable.

While the tactical tinkering of wildcard coach Paulo Sousa could hinder rather than help his charges heading into the 2012 hosts' fourth continental championships, his Polish squad - drawn from leagues all around Europe - is blessed with several seasoned professionals and a sprinkling of flair.

Factor in one of the strongest goalkeeping trios at the tournament and a handful of young talents - including teenage tyro Kacper Kozlowski, RB Salzburg-bound defender Kamil Piatkowski and Brighton's Jakub Moder - and a team of some potential can feel confident about their chances of making it to the last 16.

Certainly, the Poles will be determined to continue their recently improved record in UEFA's flagship international event, having previously not lived up to their two third-placed finishes in World Cup finals - so all eyes will be on one man, who stands alone as the Eagles' greatest.

Though talisman Robert Lewandowski may be coming towards the end of his career, he is now perfectly placed to finally make his mark on a major international championship, in what could even comprise his last-ever tournament for a football-mad nation.


GROUP

While, with home advantage, Spain are the undoubted favourites - even in the midst of a rebuilding phase under Luis Enrique - it is expected to be the apparently well-matched Poland and Sweden who should battle it out to join them in the top two.

Despite their experience - plus a smattering of younger players with some potential - Slovakia are considered the underdogs to progress, so a victory over their neighbours in their opening game is almost essential should Poland want to take a place in the last 16.

Much could be at stake, then, by the time they return to St Petersburg, where they will meet the Swedes on June 23, in a potentially decisive encounter.

FIXTURES

June 14: Poland vs. Slovakia (5pm, Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg)
June 19: Spain vs. Poland (8pm, Estadio La Cartuja, Seville)
June 23: Sweden vs. Poland (5pm, Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Poland opened their qualifying quest in positive fashion, with a 1–0 win over Austria in Vienna, swiftly followed by a 2-0 defeat of Latvia on home soil.

From there on in, even a mid-campaign wobble could not stop the Eagles soaring to the top of Group G, which also featured North Macedonia, Israel and Slovenia.

Last October, former manager Jerzy Brzeczek's side sealed their spot at this summer's main event by beating the Macedonians 2–0, as Slovenia lost to Austria at home. Poland therefore progressed as group winners, racking up a fourth consecutive participation (one of which came without needing to qualify, as they were hosts) after decades of previous failure.

Despite guiding his nation to the finals as required, Brzeczek was replaced shortly after, which came as no surprise to those who noted his players' lack of public support, but perhaps constituted harsh treatment given how serenely his team strolled towards their target.


RECENT FORM

Though not an entirely successful experience, recent Nations League matches in the top-tier League A have offered Poland plenty of opportunities to test themselves against high-quality opposition.

Drawn in one of the competition's toughest groups, along with Italy, Bosnia and the Netherlands, the Eagles struggled when fixtures resumed last November. Their 2-0 defeat to a depleted Italy team and a subsequent reverse to the Dutch at home saw them finish in third place - enough, though, to stay afloat in the 'top flight' of Europe's newest international competition.

Since new coach Paulo Sousa has taken the reins, he has experimented with different personnel and tactical setups - often preferring to play on the counter-attack - but in their opening World Cup qualifying fixtures, Poland picked up only one point from encounters with main rivals Hungary and England; defeating Andorra 3-0 in between.

In their post-season friendlies this month, they were held to draws by both Russia and Iceland, so they enter the finals with their only win in seven games coming against lowly Andorra.


SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Lukasz Fabianski (West Ham), Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus), Lukasz Skorupski (Bologna)

Defenders: Jan Bednarek (Southampton), Bartosz Bereszynski (Sampdoria), Pawel Dawidowicz (Verona), Kamil Glik (Benevento), Michal Helik (Barnsley), Tomasz Kedziora (Dynamo Kiev), Kamil Piatkowski (Rakow Czestochowa), Tymoteusz Puchacz (Lech Poznan), Maciej Rybus (Lokomotiv Moscow)

Midfielders: Przemyslaw Frankowski (Chicago Fire), Kamil Jozwiak (Derby), Mateusz Klich (Leeds), Kacper Kozlowski (Pogon Szczecin), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Lokomotiv Moscow), Karol Linetty (Torino), Jakub Moder (Brighton), Przemyslaw Placheta (Norwich City), Piotr Zielinski (Napoli)

Forwards: Dawid Kownacki (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Arkadiusz Milik (Marseille), Karol Swiderski (PAOK), Jakub Swierczok (Piast Gliwice)


STAR PLAYER - Robert Lewandowski

At the peak of his powers, the current FIFA men's player of the year will shoulder almost all of Polish expectation this summer, after another sensational season with perennial German champions Bayern Munich. Rattling in 41 league goals in only 29 appearances to break Gerd Muller's long-standing league record, Lewandowski is now finally getting the recognition he deserves.

Poland's captain, most-capped player and all-time leading marksman, the elegant striker is perhaps football's most lethal predator - dominating the Bundesliga scoring charts since arriving at Borussia Dortmund from Lech Poznan in 2010, for a bargain £340,000.

Naturally his nation's top scorer in qualifying with six goals, 'Lewy' has yet to thrive in a major finals; still needing one more goal to match former Dortmund colleague Jakub Blaszczykowski as Poland's all-time leading scorer in the Euros, on three goals.

As he gets older, though, the Warsaw-born striker seems to get even better, so will now want to grasp one of his last opportunities to shine on the international stage.


MANAGER - Paulo Sousa

Though unpopular predecessor Jerzy Brzeczek steered Poland through qualifying, he was replaced in January by an elusive coaching itinerant, who previously represented Portugal in midfield at both Euro '96 and Euro 2000.

A varied coaching career has so far taken him to stations in England, Hungary, Israel, Switzerland, Italy, China and France, following his more illustrious playing days as a member of his country's much-feted 'golden generation'. The former Juventus and Borussia Dortmund midfielder has, though, never previously managed a national team, nor has he ever before worked in Poland.

Apparently awarded the opportunity to lead a nation of 38 million football lovers into a major finals as a result of his work at Fiorentina - who he led to fifth in Serie A some five years ago - there is still much to prove for Sousa, whose opening results have been underwhelming.

Certainly, his CV would be brightened significantly by a run into the latter stages of this summer's main event, as his Poland squad seek to emulate former glories against all expectation.


EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD

Best finish: Quarter-finals (2016)

Since the Euros first took place in 1960, despite their historical standing on the global stage, Poland have more often been absent than present - and by quite a margin.

In fact, it took the Poles a total of 48 years to finally qualify, by which time they had managed to attend five World Cup finals and claim gold at the Olympic Games.

Altogether, Poland missed out on 12 continental championships before their long-awaited first qualification in 2008: a finals at which they finished last in the group stage, which was a result they disappointingly repeated four years later as co-hosts.

However, their third successive attempt, at Euro 2016, proved by far their best, as the Eagles earned a first win - against Northern Ireland - and made it to the quarter-finals before losing to eventual champions Portugal on penalties.


PREDICTION

Though lacking in certain areas, Poland can rely on several strengths, including having Piotr Zielinski to run their creative department and the irreplaceable Robert Lewandowski to put the ball into the back of the net.

A far from impossible group, in which three nations look well-matched behind hot favourites Spain, therefore means that the Eagles can at least finish as one of the best third-placed teams and progress to the last 16.

That is likely to be where the adventure ends, however, as their probable opponents in the knockout stages boast more well-rounded squads - particularly with coach Paulo Sousa's preferred style of play still taking time to fully bed in.

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