As co-hosts, Poland were named as top seeds in the draw for the finals along with the Ukraine, and whilst that didn’t turn out too well for the Ukrainians, the Poles could scarcely have had things better.
Whereas their neighbours to the east have been handed a group that includes France, England and Sweden, the Poles will take on Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic, and kick off the tournament against the Greeks in Warsaw on June 8th (Poland win 5/4 Paddy Power).
It was Greece of course who shocked the continent by winning Euro 2004, and although they finished top of a very weak qualifying group to get here they could themselves overwhelmed by the co-hosts on their big day.
A good start for the Poles would also be terrific for the competition, and with manager Franciszek Smuda – a 63-year old in his 20th different managerial spell – keen to do just that, then Poland could well start like a house on fire.
Three points in that opening game will set them up nicely for the remainder of what is surely the toughest of the groups to predict, with the most difficult of Poland’s fixtures coming second up when they face Russia back in Warsaw (Draw 40/17 Bwin).
Smuda’s selection has been a huge topic of conversation in Poland given that he has turned to several players who were born outside of the country such as the French-born Bordeaux midfielder Ludovic Obraniak and Sochaux defender Damien Perquis. Roger Guerreiro – the midfielder from São Paulo whose goal against Austria in Euro 2008 remains Poland’s only ever strike in a European Championships – is also still in the squad.
Much like at Arsenal, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny will keep out Lukasz Fabianski to claim the No. 1 shirt, and he’ll provide a solid backup which could see the Poles win the group ahead of Russia, depending on their last game against the Czech Republic in Wroclaw (Poland win 17/10 Bwin).
Qualification is certainly possible for Smuda’s side given their promise and home advantage (group points: exactly 5 9/1, exactly 6 11/2, exactly 7 7/1, exactly 9 18/1, Bet Victor) and with the Russians the most likely to join them in reaching the last eight then a straight forecast could prove tempting (Russia 1st, Poland 2nd 5/1 Bet365, Poland 1st, Russia 2nd 7/1 Bet365). It’s what happens after the group stage is over that will see Poland struggle though.
Whoever emerges from Group A will tackle whoever comes out of Group B, but with the qualifiers from the latter group likely to be either Germany or Holland then it almost doesn’t matter who finishes where, it’ll be the Group B teams who prosper.
A meeting with either the Germans or the Dutch – and probably even Portugal, who could upset the applecart in Group B – will prove too much for the Poles (stage of elimination: quarter-finals 13/8 Bet365), but with Smuda’s side surely identifying reaching the knockout stages for the first time as a success as they host their big party, they are unlikely to be too disappointed so long as they aren’t embarrassed.
The prospect of unheralded hosts going far in the competition has been seen fairly infrequently in recent tournaments – South Korea 2002, even England 1996 – and Poland’s fate looks to be somewhere a little in between those and the first round exits that we saw from Austria and Switzerland at Euro 2008 and South Africa at the last World Cup.
The quarter-finals will surely be just fine by them though, and they can profit from a less than taxing group to get there.