In grabbing the final qualifying berth for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, leaving the likes of France, Italy and the Netherlands empty-handed, Poland certainly sprung a surprise. And according to left-back Krzysztof Krol, there is still a lot more to come.
For behind his gangly (1.82m) frame and smiling, baby face, Krol has steely ambition coursing through his veins. When asked about his personal goals for Canada 2007, he cannot help but see the bigger picture: "I'm aiming to break into the Real Madrid first team and take part in the Champions League." Yes, but what about here, at this tournament? "I want to show what I'm capable of and prove that I deserve my place at such a club. I'm aiming to use this competition as a stepping stone to the highest level," he insists.
It has undoubtedly been a whirlwind last few months for Krzysztof. He began playing football aged seven at local football academy Wodzislaw, before taking the plunge into the professional game aged 18. "I joined Amica Wronki, a club in the Polish first division. I remained there for a season before transferring to another first-division club, Groclin, where I stayed for four months before coming to Real Madrid," says the gifted defender.
The Pole's big break came last year. "I used to spend the summer training in Spain, at a small club where some of my friends are playing," he explains. "I was spotted in summer 2006. Things went very fast from there and by January 2007 I was in the youth team at Real Madrid." Though clearly delighted with his new surroundings, his Merengue adventure has not been all fun and games: "Not speaking the language made things particularly difficult. I've had a few ups and downs, and I was a bit depressed." Not that he ever entertained thoughts of leaving the Spanish capital: "Leave Real? Why would anyone do that...?"
'We aren't afraid of Brazil'
A fan of England left-back Ashley Cole, Krol is beginning to find his feet and settle into life in Madrid. "It's been getting easier of late because I'm starting to pick up a little Spanish. I train in the morning and take Spanish lessons in the afternoon. I've started playing in the third division, I've made some friends and even been out with them," he beams. Nevertheless, he still has his work cut out to make an impression, both with the club and the language.
Happily, the youngster seems altogether more assured of himself in the national team, having made his debut three years ago. Even ahead of Poland's opening match against the mighty Brazil, Krol refuses to be overawed. "We have a lot of respect for Brazil; they always pose a threat regardless of what level you're playing at. Even so, we aren't afraid of them at all," insists the pacy full-back. "We're going out there to play our game and we believe in ourselves because as a team we're very strong." When asked if Poland can go all the way to the Final, his fierce determination is almost tangible: "Of course, that's why we're here."
The European side have the ability and cohesiveness to cause Brazil problems, and appear quite happy to cede possession to the Auriverdes. "Our formation is especially reliant on a very solid defensive base, although we're also quick and technically gifted. This makes us dangerous on the counter-attack, which is our speciality." Providing the launch pad for many of these attacking forays will be none other than Krol himself. "I play like Roberto Carlos," he ventures cheekily. "I'm a left-back but I like working the flank whenever I can." At least Brazil should know what to expect...