With the opening match against Greece just around the corner, Poland coach Franciszek Smuda told UEFA.com his hopes for his young side as he reflected on his "hardest job".
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For Franciszek Smuda, the task of preparing Poland for UEFA EURO 2012 has been the "hardest job" that the 63-year-old has undertaken in his coaching career. With Friday's opening game against Greece approaching fast, he reflected on the journey undertaken with his young Poland side and told UEFA.com: "Our goal is to get out of the group and we will fight for this."
UEFA.com: What does it mean to you personally to lead the Poland national team into such a big tournament in your own country?
Franciszek Smuda: This is an exceptional time for me, but I don't think about it. I look at it normally. First of all, I concentrate on training, on the team. This is the most important thing.
UEFA.com: What would be a successful EURO for you?
Smuda: For me to be personally satisfied with this young team I would like to advance from the group. That is our goal.
UEFA.com: A lot of time has passed since Poland's football successes of the 1970s and 1980s. Do you think that this creates an additional pressure and do you think that the players can cope with that?
Smuda: I think that this team is able to live with that and will cope with it. These are players who, notwithstanding their young age, have already achieved something in their careers – their club careers; I don't mean the national team, but this will transfer across.
UEFA.com: Greece were winners in 2004. Can that help them or could the comparisons between that team and their current side be a burden?
Smuda: For sure, it is not easy for them, but they have an experienced team and most of their players have already played in major tournaments. We still don't have as many players with that kind of experience. At most, two or three took part in the last EURO – the rest are rookies or will be participating for the first time.
UEFA.com: What do you expect from Greece in Friday's match?
Smuda: Greece must feel they are favourites, and they have the right to do so. As I have already mentioned, we are a very young team, the youngest of the 16 except for Germany. So it can feel like Greece are favourites, but we don't have anything to lose. Our goal is to get out of the group and we will fight for this.
UEFA.com: When you were building this team, you didn't close the door on players with Polish heritage. Before you arrived, the team had Roger Guerreiro. Do Poland need to do this to catch up with the best?
Smuda: Actually, they [the Brazil-born Guerreiro] did not have Polish roots, but the players that are in the national team right now do. Some were born here in Poland and only later moved abroad with their families, so they are Polish. We don't have too many of these players. Germany have many more, France have some, and the Netherlands too.
UEFA.com: How have these players improved your team?
Smuda: They have brought fresh blood – they have excellent ability which was necessary for us in order to increase competition in the team.
UEFA.com: There has been a backlash from some supporters against this policy. How do you see this?
Smuda: I think it was difficult in the beginning, [but] the supporters have now accepted them.
UEFA.com: What has been the most difficult aspect of building a team fit for the EURO?
Smuda: The most difficult thing was the first year. It's been the hardest job I've had. In Poland, you might say that there is a shortage of top players. This is not the 70s, 80s or even 90s, when it was possible to field three national teams. Currently, there are not enough youngsters coming through who are good enough for international football, so it was a big problem. When I took over the team, there were only two, three players left from the side which had competed in the qualifiers for South Africa [the 2010 FIFA World Cup].
UEFA.com: Is there anything you regret not doing in the past two and a half years, perhaps owing to a lack of time?
Smuda: The task with the national team is very difficult. You cannot train enough with these players because there is not the time. Two or three training sessions and then playing friendly matches. That's what I regret the most. But I hope the players have learned what I wanted them to and taken it on board in the friendly matches we have had.
UEFA.com: Finally, what can we expect from Poland as a host country?
Smuda: Of course, we have wonderful stadiums, and I think that Poland, when the EURO is over, will have showed that it's a country which can create the [right] environment, with the stadiums and the roads that are here. The infrastructure has been significantly improved, but personally, from a sporting point of view, I would now like the national team to stamp its mark on the tournament.