Since beating France to finish third at the 1982 FIFA World Cup, it has been a thin time for Poland at international level. World Cup qualifications in 1986, 2002 and 2006 ended in relative disappointments, while they are yet to reach a UEFA European Championship final tournament. So Wednesday's 2-1 victory against Portugal was perhaps their best result since that night in Spain a quarter of a century ago, and the win in Chorzow brought back memories of that decade in more than one way.
Like father, like son
Twenty years ago at the World Cup in Mexico, Poland made the second round on the back of a 1-0 defeat of Portugal in Monterrey. The scorer that day was a veteran of the vaunted 1982 squad, Włodzimierz Smolarek. Last night the two early goals that did for the Iberian nation in UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying Group A came from his son, Euzebiusz. Appropriately, Smolarek senior named his child after the legend of Portuguese football, Eusébio.
The younger Smolarek, nicknamed 'Ebi', is considered a rising star in Poland and the 25-year-old BV Borussia Dortmund attacker's two fine strikes, the first from a tight angle and the second a classy finish, ensured that Nuno Gomes's late effort was a mere consolation. Poland moved ahead of their rivals into fourth place in a tight group, and the local press were ecstatic at a success based on aggressive pressing and swift counterattacks against the 2006 World Cup semi-finalists. "You are the greatest!", "Poland thank you for this night" and "The night of dreams" were among the headlines.
It was also a personal triumph for Poland's Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker, who believes that after a difficult start his players are finally coming to terms with his philosophy of football. "The tactics were to stop the Portuguese from playing in the middle," Beenhakker said. "The team carried out the strategy 100 per cent." Indeed, the victory could have been more emphatic as Maciej Żurawski hit the post and Mariusz Lewandowski missed a great chance in tandem with Grzegorz Rasiak. No matter: Poland fans will carry on dreaming right until their side's next assignment in Belgium on 15 November.
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