Poland make significant strides after historic Algarve showing
Poland were surprise 2019 Algarve Cup finalists
Biggest climbers in the latest FIFA Women's Ranking
Highest position for 12 years
Milosz Stepinski and his team could scarcely have wished for a better start to 2019. By reaching the final of the 2019 Algarve Cup, Poland jumped six places from 34th to 28th in the latest edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking. The Poles are now just one place shy of their best-ever position achieved in 2005 and 2007.
"Reaching the final was quite a surprise," national team coach Stepinski told FIFA.com. "While every team was focused on attack, we were also very well organised in defence and able to switch efficiently between the two, so perhaps that was the key to our success.
"We are working on our new strategy, particularly the transition between defence and attack. We are working very hard on this because we are not so strong in this area. We cannot compete on the same level as Norway or Spain as they simply have better players – it’s as simple as that. We have to find a way to limit our opponents’ attacking power and use our strengths more efficiently."
This strategy appears to be working. The Poles got the better of significantly higher-ranked teams in the shape of Spain (13th) and the Netherlands (eighth) in the Algarve, defeating their opponents 3-0 and 1-0 respectively.
"Never before in our country’s brief history of women’s football have we had a chance of beating teams as strong as Spain and the European champions the Netherlands in particular," Stepinski said. "To be totally honest, we weren’t the best team in either game – we were the underdogs. We were well organised but didn’t have more than about 20 to 25 per cent possession.
"Our motto was ‘We don’t need the ball to control the match’. I told my players that it’s better to suffer out on the pitch during the game rather than in the dressing room later. They agreed with that and did so much running without the ball."
The Polish women’s national football team played their first match on 27 June 1981 and have never competed at a major tournament. Stepinski’s side lost out to Scotland and Switzerland in qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, finishing their campaign in third place.
"I only have a few international players such as Katarzyna Kiedrzynek [PSG] and Katarzyna Daleszczyk [Sassuolo]," the 44-year-old coach explained. "Most of the squad play in the Polish league which, to be honest, is at not as good as the leagues in Norway, Spain or the Netherlands.
"A few days ago we had a great meeting at the Polish Football Association [PZPN] with our president, Zbigniew Boniek, to discuss our concerns about the women’s game in Poland. The Association is currently doing a great deal to improve the national teams. While we are training and working with the national sides at a high level, there is still a considerable gulf between what we are doing with our national teams and what the clubs are doing – and I believe this gap is getting bigger."
Stepinski believes that bridging this divide is the primary objective and the only way to keep developing women’s football in his homeland. As he only spends 15 or 16 days with his players during 20 to 25 training sessions each year, most of this development work falls on the shoulders of the country’s clubs, something Stepinski believes is the only way to provide the game with a firm foundation.
"The idea is to reorganise our league, perhaps with fewer teams, as we don’t have many players in our country – maybe 20,000?" he explained. "Although this number is growing all the time, it is still small compared to Poland’s population of 38 million. We are aware of these problems, and finding a way to solve them isn’t easy."
While Poland will once again be watching this year's Women’s World Cup on television, Stepinski will not let this opportunity pass him by. Watching the world’s best players means he can identify the latest trends and learn about new tactical and technical solutions in the women’s game.
"If you want to move in the right direction, you have to watch and learn from the best." And who knows – it may not be long before other teams are looking to him and his team for inspiration.