Poland’s qualification campaigns for the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups™ could hardly have been more dissimilar.
The Red-Whites secured their place at Germany 2006 with a match to spare, recording just two defeats (both against England) and qualifying for the finals hosted by their westen neighbours as one of the best runners-up.
However, their campaign for South Africa 2010 proved considerably more troublesome. Just three wins from ten games (as well as five defeats) left the Poles second-bottom of their section and ultimately watching from home as the world’s finest battled it out in the Rainbow Nation.
FIFA World Cup finals history
Poland have taken part in seven FIFA World Cups in total (1938, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 2002, 2006), although their true glory days are an increasingly distant memory. In 1972 the Poles won gold at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in Munich, before finishing third at the FIFA World Cup in the same country two years later. Grzegorz Lato netted one of his seven tournament goals to ensure victory over Brazil in the match for third place.
The eastern Europeans also impressed at Spain 1982, this time beating France to claim third spot. It would be another 16 years before Poland qualified for football’s showpiece event once again, although the 2002 edition in Korea/Japan was largely disappointing as the team crashed out at the group stage.
Germany 2006 was a similarly sobering experience. Following a surprise 2-0 defeat in their opening game against Ecuador, Poland's hopes of a place in the knockout stages went up in smoke after a 1-0 loss against hosts Germany. A 2-1 victory against Costa Rica in their final group game was ultimately academic.
The current crop
As co-hosts of UEFA EURO 2012, Poland can prepare for the tournament without the pressures of qualifying and also blood their younger players without fear of a backlash. Indeed, the experience of a European Championship on home turf could well stand them in good stead for the preliminary competition for Brazil 2014.
If Polish players were a rarity in Europe's top league over the past decade, the landscape has since changed considerably. Lukasz Piszczek, captain Jakub Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski, to name but three, were all integral parts of Borussia Dortmund’s Bundesliga-winning campaign of 2010/11. The EURO 2012 hosts are now hoping those star names, along with the likes of Dariusz Dudka, Ireneusz Jelen and Michal Zewlakow, can make Poland a force to be reckoned with in qualifying for Brazil 2014.
Current coach: None
Best performances in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup Germany 1974, Spain 1982 (Third place)
Former stars: Wlodzimierz Lubanski, Grzegorz Lato, Jan Tomaszewski