Poland v England, 8pm
16 October ~ As is now customary, hope rather than expectation will be the overriding emotion among Poles for this evening's clash with England in Warsaw. Waldemar Fornalik's appointment as the national team's new coach in July illustrated the perpetual state of underwhelm that envelops the country's national team. The majority of fans were glad to see the back of his predecessor, Franciszek Smuda, whose relentless tinkering and destructive man management meant group-stage elimination at the European Championship rendered his position untenable.
Fornalik can only boast a second-place finish in the Polish Ekstraklasa as his main coaching highlight and many have questioned whether he can earn the respect of his players, many of whom regularly perform on a more illustrious stage. They are yet to show significant improvement since his arrival, although a win over Moldova and a 2-2 draw in Montenegro represent a respectable start to qualifying.
The country's stadiums and infrastructure have seen a boost from hosting Euro 2012 but Polish football struggles to step out of the shadow of its past. A big part of that heritage can be traced back to that famous night at Wembley in 1973, when a combination of luck and resolve saw them hold off the challenge of England to qualify for the following year's World Cup finals. Poland finished third at that tournament and repeated the feat eight years later in Spain.
It is perhaps due to the marvel that still surrounds the 1973 fixture that makes matches against England such a special occasion for Poland. Their record is dreadful, just one win from 17 meetings, but the "what if?" factor endures. "Matches with England are always a special event," former international Tomasz Iwan, who faced England twice during qualifying for Euro 2000, admits. "Emotions will certainly not be less than during the Euros."
The current side continue to rely heavily on the quality of the "Dortmund Axis": Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski. But with Blaszczykowski – who is also captain – absent through injury, Poland will need to find alternatives. A key problem for Fornalik, as Piszczek points out, is the lack of depth: "They, unlike us, have many good players," the defender said. "If the Polish team loses one important player, it is in trouble. In England, this is different."
The Polish media have awarded plenty of coverage to the off-field tumult experienced by their opponents in recent weeks. The absence of John Terry – "The Lions' biggest Lion", as one columnist described him – is expected to leave a leadership void in defence. Victory would still seem improbable but that suits Poland just fine. Marcus Haydon