Even the most diehard Polish supporters were pleasantly surprised at their team's success in qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™.
After the success of the qualifiers, however, the final phase of the 2006 FIFA World Cup turned out to be a bitter disappointment for Poland and their fans, who held out real hope of progress to erase the memory of the team's first round exit four years earlier. After a surprise 2-0 defeat in the opener against Ecuador, they lost their second match to hosts Germany 1-0 which spelled the end of their hopes of progressing. The 2-1 win over Costa Rica in the final group match was a mere consolation.
Falling in the first round was to cost coach Pawel Janas his job, and he was replaced by Leo Beenhakker, who was in charge of Trinidad and Tobago at Germany 2006. Poland looked to the Dutchman to put an end to a terrible run at the European Championships - so bad, in fact, that they had never qualified for the tournament, even during their golden era of the 1970s. The experienced coach did just that, leading them to the UEFA EURO 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland. However, Beenhakker's side ended up collecting only one point at the event with a 1-1 draw against Austria, while losing to Germany (0-2) and Croatia (0-1). They are, of course, automatically qualified for UEFA EURO 2012, which they will be co-hosting with Ukraine.
Beenhakker's men will tackle qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ in the hope of renewing with past successes and making it through to their third FIFA World Cup in succession. The coach has a talented squad at his disposal, including goalkeeper Artur Boruc, midfield dynamo Jacek Krzynowek and forwards Maciej Zurawski and Ebi Smolarek, all of whom ply their trade abroad. Fans back home in this football-crazy nation hope that these players will soon be talked about as the new 'golden generation'.
Poland's glory days are very much in the past now. In 1972, they won gold at the Olympic Games in Munich before coming third two years later at the FIFA World Cup™ in West Germany, beating Brazil in the third place match thanks to a goal from Grzegorz Lato - one of seven that the striker notched during the tournament.
Poland emulated that achievement with a victory over France at Spain 1982. Their team that year was marshalled by world-class midfielder Zbigniew Boniek, later to move to Juventus in the biggest transfer involving an East European player of his generation.
There was a 16-year gap before Poland reappeared at the FIFA World Cup finals, and their campaign at Korea/Japan 2002 proved a terrible let-down as their outstanding performances in qualifying crumbled into a first-round exit from the finals.