By Pawel Dimow
As a confidence-booster before trying to eliminate Real Madrid CF from the UEFA Champions League, completing a century of domestic goals will do just fine.
On Saturday, four days before Wisla Kraków's attempt to overturn a 2-0 third qualifying round deficit at the Santiago Bernabéu tonight, Maciej Zurawski scored for the 100th time in the Polish top flight, 25 minutes into their fixture with GKS Katowice.
Wisla won 3-0 - with Zurawski scoring again after the break - and are the only side in the Ekstraklasa with maximum points from the first three matches, a record they will need to take inspiration from as they attempt to reverse the home defeat they suffered against Madrid a fortnight ago.
Zurawski, who will turn 28 on 12 September, is only the 24th player to achieve the 100-goal mark in Poland, and having scored a consolation goal for the national team in their home defeat by Denmark last week, is focusing on repeating the feat against Madrid. He said: "I am happy that I find myself in 'Club 100'. However, there is no time for celebrations as the game with Real Madrid is waiting for us."
Poznan-born Zurawski began his career with local club KS Warta Poznan before his cross-city switch to Lech Poznan during the 1997/98 campaign. Forming a dangerous partnership with Piotr Reiss, Zurawski continued to improve and in 1999 Wisla came calling.
String of successes
Zurawski's transfer took his career to another level. He became a team leader immediately, since helping Wisla to three championships, two Polish Cups and one Polish League Cup. Moreover, he was the leading goalscorer in 2001/02 and 2003/04, giving him a stellar domestic reputation.
Admittedly, Zurawski is yet to replicate that form on the international stage for Poland, with only six goals in 32 games, including a penalty miss at the 2002 FIFA World Cup against the United States. But on the European club stage Zurawski has shown his true ability, notably in the 2002/03 UEFA Cup when he struck nine goals, taking Wisla past Glentoran FC, NK Primorje, Parma FC and FC Schalke 04 before a narrow 5-4 aggregate fourth-round defeat by S.S. Lazio.
Champions League dream
Now Wisla and Zurawski are hungry for more European success and tonight aim to reach the Champions League group stage at their third attempt. FC Barcelona and RSC Anderlecht beat them in the third qualifying round in 2001 and 2003 respectively, and this season another tough task has presented itself in the shape of Madrid.
But despite trailing 2-0 with the away leg to come, Wisla coach Henry Kasperczak retains his optimism, saying after the weekend victory: "Our team confirmed their quality today. We have won deservedly. Katowice played ambitiously and with toughness but were not able to catch up with us. This is a good sign ahead of the game with Madrid. Now we are preparing for that return match." With Zurawski spearheading their attack, maybe there is still hope.
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