Poland have reached their first women's Under-17 finals and did so without their own "Leo Messi" Ewa Pajor, giving coach Zbigniew Witkowski plenty of confidence.
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Two years ago Poland were pipped to a UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship debut when, having beaten England and Sweden, they lost 2-0 to Iceland. Now coach Zbigniew Witkowski has led them a step further, seeing off the Republic of Ireland and Norway before a 1-1 draw in a postponed game against second qualifying round hosts Austria clinched their finals place.
"We already had a very good team in the past but this one is the best I have ever coached – not because of the stars but because of the whole squad," Witkowski said. "I strongly believe we will play in the final this year."
Striker Ewa Pajor is the standout player, having already received a senior international call-up, yet Poland managed the decisive stalemate with Austria without her. "We showed that even without our Leo Messi we are still the same strong team," added the coach. "I have been working with women's footballers since 2000 and I have come through all levels of a coaching career. Working with the national team is a great privilege and I love the job."
First qualifying round: Slovakia 4-0, Faroe Islands 3-0, Spain 0-3 (Group 11 runners-up)
Second qualifying round: Republic of Ireland 2-1, Norway 3-0, Austria 1-1 (Group 2 winners)
Ewa Pajor (forward, Medyk Konin), Katarzyna Gozdek (defender, KS AZS Wrocław), Ewelina Kamczyk (midfielder, RTP Unia Racibórz)
Coach: Zbigniew Witkowski
Date of birth: 7 August 1975
Coaching career: CKS CZeladź (men, assistant), Poland women's U19 (assistant)/U15/U17
Witkowski became involved in the Poland women's youth set-up in 2000 as assistant U19 coach. Four years later he moved to a similar role with the U17s before stepping up to train the U15s in 2009 and the U17s two years later, steering them to the 2012/13 UEFA finals.
In 2003 he earned a PhD in physical culture science from the Moscow Insititute of Children's and Teenagers' Development Physiology, and the following year was employed by the football department of the University School of Physical Education in Krakow, having occupied a similar post in Katowice. He is the author of four books (in Polish and Russian) and over 70 articles on football training.
Qualifying top scorer
Ewa Pajor: 4
UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship best