Grzegorz Krychowiak, Poland's goal-scoring hero in their opener against Brazil, has since had to suffer the torment of a crushing defeat at the hands of the United States. However, the 17-year-old remains in defiant mood ahead of Poland's final group match against Korea Republic.
Poland v Brazil, 30 June 2007. With less than half an hour on the clock at Montreal's Olympic Stadium, the Poles are awarded a free-kick 25 metres from the opposition goal. Grzegorz Krychowiak steps up and sends a wonderful strike fizzing past the helpless Brazilian keeper, Cassio. The stadium, a sea of red and white, erupts with joy... With that single blow, Krychowiak provided an entire nation with cause to rejoice. The 17-year-old midfielder is fully aware of what his goal meant. "When the draw [for the finals] was made, nobody imagined that little Poland would beat the Brazilian superstars in the opening match. So it was a source of great joy, and great pride, not just for Polish football but for the whole country."
After the match, coach Michal Globisz underlined the magnitude of his team's achievement: "We hadn't beaten a Brazilian side for 33 years, not since the 1974 World Cup, when Grzegorz Lato scored. And tonight it was another Grzegorz who got the winner. History has a funny way of repeating itself," mused the Polish strategist.
"It's a fantastic feeling to score on an occasion like that, with such a big crowd behind us. But the most important thing was that we got the three points. I'm happy for the team," says Krychowiak, who insists that he was not named after Polish legend Lato, who was the top scorer at the FIFA 1974 World Cup in Germany.
The future of Polish football
Globisz has known Krychowiak for many years, having coached him while he was with the U-16 team. "He is still only 17 and already he is a key member of the team. Like his team-mates, he represents the future of Polish football," says his coach. High praise indeed for a midfielder who, not counting back-up keeper Wojciech Szczesny, who is several months younger, is the baby of the squad. And the praise is fully justified.
Krychowiak is a versatile performer, and while he is essentially a defensive midfielder, he loves to get forward. And belying his boyish looks, he is not short on confidence and has a maturity beyond his years, as his cool-headed analysis of Poland's defeat against the USA demonstrates. "We actually started the game well, and scored the first goal," he reflects. "But they equalised very quickly and got the second soon afterwards, which was a real slap in the face for us. When they got the third just before half-time it finished us off, as we were actually the better team at that point."
Poland's victory over Brazil was all the more remarkable given that they played over an hour of the game with just ten men. Krychowiak believes the sapping effects of that experience caught up with them against the Americans. "At half-time, we spoke about changing our tactics. But playing with 10 men against the Brazilians had taken its toll. We were too exhausted, physically and mentally, to put up a fight." In the second half Poland switched to man-marking Freddy Adu. "Adam Danch was meant to mark him, but he simply didn't have the strength to cope," explains Globisz.
While their mauling at the hands of the Americans has inevitably had an effect, Krychowiak is not the sort of young man to let things get him down. Having signed for Bordeaux last year, after being spotted playing for Poland during a U-16 tournament, Krychowiak now lives alone on the west coast of France, which, as nice a spot as it is, is still hard-going for a young man of just 17. "My family come to visit twice a year. That's in my contract," he says, his expression indicating that the loneliness gets to him a bit. But he is determined to tough it out in order to achieve his dream. A professed admirer of Steven Gerrard, Krychowiak hopes to sign for Liverpool one day.
But for the moment there is the more immediate concern of seeing off the South Koreans. A draw might be enough to see them into the last 16, but there is no danger of Krychowiak contemplating such an outcome. "We don't have any choice - we need to win. We'll have to be as solid at the back as we were against Brazil, as the South Koreans are very dangerous going forward. Above all, we have to go out there to get the three points - we can't afford to get involved in complicated calculations," he says.
The midfielder knows that they face a tricky task, but is a young man blessed with an iron will, and he evokes the words of his mentor and coach: "Globisz said to us: 'you have everything you need in your heads and your feet, you are the masters of your own destiny'." Krychowiak is determined to grasp his with both hands...