World Cup 2022 team guides part 11: Poland | Poland

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This article is part of the Guardian’s World Cup 2022 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 32 countries who qualified. is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 20 November.

The plan

Czeslaw Michniewicz was in jovial mood when speaking to journalists gathered for the announcement of his provisional World Cup squad. “The main goal at the World Cup?” he said. “We joked that it would be appropriate to spend Barborka (Miners’ Day, 4 December) and Saint Nicholas Day (6 December) in Qatar. That is our goal because it would mean that we got out of the group.”

That is something Poland have not done since Mexico 86. Usually there is a lot of discussion about learning from past failures but this time the general consensus among the public seems to be: “Deeds, not words.”

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It is very hard to predict how far this team can go in Qatar but the Nations League games offered a few clues. Poland were not good enough to beat the Netherlands or Belgium but stronger than a rather mediocre Wales side. All of those teams have qualified for the World Cup.

Michniewicz has been developing his “perfect” plan but injuries and lack of minutes for some of the more experienced players have not helped. It looks like he will opt for a three-man central defence and wing-backs. It is, however, a hybrid formation that can quickly turn into a back four if Poland are attacking and a back five when they are defending. He used the system to good effect when coaching the under-21s, where he took some big scalps including Italy, Belgium and Portugal.

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As always a lot rests on Robert Lewandowski, a striker who can score against any defence, and this time he is surrounded by players in form: Sebastian Szymanski is blossoming at Feyenoord while Piotr Zielinski is having a fantastic season as part of a lethal Napoli machine. Maybe qualifying for the knockout stage is a wish that can finally come true.

The coach

The Polish FA was given a Christmas shock last year when Paulo Sousa announced he was leaving to take over at Flamengo. After a long search for a new coach, with Fabio Cannavaro and Andriy Shevchenko being named as possible replacements, Czeslaw Michniewicz got the nod despite a turbulent spell at Legia Warsaw. The appointment was criticised in some quarters but Michniewicz got the job done – qualifying Poland for the World Cup with a 2-0 playoff win over Sweden, who they had not beaten for 45 years. Now comes the toughest challenge in Michniewicz’s coaching career. If he leads Poland into the knockout stage then a contract extension surely awaits.

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Star player

Robert Lewandowski was at the centre of one of the most drawn-out transfer sagas last summer but was in the end able to join Barcelona after eight years at Bayern Munich. Speaking at his Camp Nou unveiling he said: “I feel like a child who has entered a store full of new toys.” He needed a change but one thing has remained constant: his goalscoring prowess. For Barcelona he scored 18 goals in his first 17 games, quickly dispelling any notion that he would not prosper outside the Bundesliga. The question for Poland is whether Michniewicz’s system is getting the best out of him. Two goals in six games indicates there is room for improvement.

Karol Swiderski guides in Poland’s winner in Cardiff that consigned Wales to Nations League relegation.
Karol Swiderski guides in the Poland winner in Cardiff that consigned Wales to Nations League relegation. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

Unsung hero

Innocent-looking but strong, quick and skilful, Karol Swiderski has managed to eke out a crucial role as a goalscoring strike partner for Robert Lewandowski. Many have tried and many have failed before him, but the Charlotte FC player got his chance under Paulo Sousa – and took it. He scored five goals in nine qualifying games and then both winners against Wales in the Nations League. May well return to Europe soon, having moved to the MLS from PAOK in January.

Probable lineup

Poland probable lineup

Qatar stance

Neither the Polish FA nor the players have said anything publicly about the World Cup being held in Qatar and it is fair to say that they have been focused on giving neighbouring Ukraine all the support they can. Players have taken a very strong stance against the war; they refused to play Russia and Robert Lewandowski wore a Ukrainian armband and met Andriy Shevchenko in Warsaw. No surprise, perhaps, as Wojciech Szczesny and Tomasz Kedziora both have Ukrainian wives, the Dynamo Kyiv defender Kedziora’s other half having to escape the embattled city after the invasion began. The Polish FA was also active in leading the calls for Russia to be banned from international football.

National anthem

It is called Dabrowski’s Mazurka, which means “Poland is not yet lost”. The lyrics were written by Jozef Wybicki in 1797 but the composer of the music remains unknown. The anthem is filled with patriotism and faith in regaining independence after it was lost in the Third Partition of Poland by Russia, Prussia and Austria. It expresses the idea that despite no longer being an independent state, the nation would live on as long as the people were fighting in its name.

All-time cult hero

In the 1980s Zbigniew Boniek became the first Polish player to star at a major European club. He had made his name in the legendary Widzew Lodz side that caused European shocks for both Manchester clubs and Juventus, who he joined in 1982. A great player and a strong character who was not afraid to speak his mind. For that he was widely appreciated, but it also got him into trouble at times. c after giving up playing he was Polish FA president for nine years before becoming one of Uefa’s vice-presidents.

Tomasz Wlodarczyk writes for Meczyki. Follow him here on Twitter.

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