World champions have an injury crisis
10 October ~ Geographic proximity and shared history mean that meetings between Germany and Poland are eagerly anticipated. Although historic enemies, the countries have become increasingly close allies in recent years but this contemporary chumminess will not diminish Poland's hopes of downing the world champions when they visit Warsaw this weekend. It would be wrong to ever describe Poles as genuinely hopeful about their national team's chances, but there is a quiet optimism about Saturday's meeting.
The game is a sell-out at the national stadium and a poll run by daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza this week found that almost 60 per cent of respondents thought that Poland would get at least a draw from the encounter.
"We know who we are playing, we know the scale of the challenge, but it motivates us and it's not frightening," insisted defender Lukasz Piszczek, one of five members of the squad who play in Germany. There is little in the way of footballing justification for such optimism. Poland have never beaten Germany in 18 attempts and despite winning their opening qualification game 7-0 against Gibraltar, their performance was often unconvincing. They sit 70th in the FIFA rankings and remain hugely reliant on the talents of Robert Lewandowski in attack, with only two other members of the squad having more than three international goals to their name.
The Poles' hope is instead derived from the belief that facing the world champions so soon after their triumph in Brazil is an advantage, especially as Joachim Löw's side are in the midst of an injury crisis that has led to them calling up five defenders with just 16 caps between them. Sports daily Przeglad Sportowy pointed out that the visitors would actually be envious of Poland for having a right-back of Piszczek's calibre.
The question is whether this Polish side, so often accused of lacking resolve and self-confidence, can harness the pre-match buzz and translate it into a memorable performance. "Polish football is much more complex than 11 people in red-and-white shirts," says Lewandowski. "When we go out on the pitch to represent the country, we throw everything we have. Too often, though, this ends up as just good intentions. Such a match like this with the Germans can give a kick to this team. Break the doubt and apathy in us and the fans."
Much has been made of the fact that Poland have already beaten Germany in handball, volleyball and basketball this year. The country's footballers will hope they can complete an historic quadruple on Saturday evening. Marcus Haydon