Remarkable qualification, and indeed the question all the fans are asking is: How far can we go?
The draw came in February. Olivera took his place among the managers and executives and awaited the computer’s verdict. They landed in group 4 – with Denmark, England and Germany.
That was a tough deal. Germany had topped their group and, despite their early World Cup exit, would go into the tournament among the favourites. And it was a fixture that always elicited strong feelings on both sides – the nation Poland saw as their biggest rivals. There had been a lot of buzz about England (also group winners) this time around, but when wasn’t there? They were unproven, but surely dangerous. Denmark were the weakest team but they had done well to eliminate Sweden in the play-offs and had a number of top players. Poland would be over-performing if they finished anywhere above fourth.
For some reason, the Polish FA seemed to organise at least two friendly matches against Austria every year. The March 2032 edition was a good one for the Poles. Austria, who’d also qualified for the Euros behind England, looked half asleep and were torn apart. Piatek opened the scoring and his 18 year-old replacement Maciej Pietrzkiewicz scored a debut goal in a comprehensive 3-0 win.
Most positions in Olivera’s first eleven were locked down. But he’d struggled to find the right centre-back partnership and tried a new combination of Jakub Swierczewski and Mariusz Kaczorowski against Austria. They both did okay and, unless they did anything wrong in the final friendly against Bulgaria, that’s what he’d go with in the tournament.
While all the focus was on the Euros, the World Cup qualifying groups were also being decided. Poland got a soft draw that gave Olivera every reason for optimism.
The last pre-tournament friendly was another win. The Bulgarians couldn’t cope with the Polish attack and were put to the sword 3-0. Among the scorers was Bartosz Kowalski, who had averaged 7.50 in his international appearances. The attack minded left-back was another man who had become a crucial part of the team.
But only one name was on the Polish fans’ lips as the tournament approached… and he’d been noticed by other parties too.
As the domestic season drew to a close, there were a number of huge achievements. Real Madrid secured an eighth successive La Liga title, with Brendan Rogers equalling Olivera’s ‘four in a row’. In Portugal, Porto won their first title in 16 years. And Barcelona claimed their seventh European Cup to close out a period of uncharacteristic failure.
Now all eyes turned to the Euros…
A horrible draw! England and Germany! The Group of Death!
Come on the Danes!
The team travelled out to Norway ready for action, but they were one of the last teams scheduled to play… Olivera didn’t begrudge them a few days of sightseeing. If anything was going to push Poland over the line it would be the feel-good factor.
England and Germany met in the group 4 opener and it was a tense encounter. Both sides had their chances but, as so often had been the case when it got to a major tournament, the Germans came through with a 2-1 win.
Just a few days later, Poland met the Danes. They didn’t have a starry squad, but Olivera had worked with Poul Erik Poulson in his early days at Madrid. The defensive midfielder was the solid heart of the team, with the occasional brilliance of striker Jakob Iverson elevating them above the mediocre. There was little brilliance on display in the first half though, and Poland came in lucky to be 1-0 up. Having barely made it into the penalty box all half, they got a break when Wojcik’s free kick was deflected into his own net by centre back Mike Enevoldsen.
Olivera didn’t know what was wrong with his players. They seemed to be lacking both energy and cohesion – the two things that had secured their qualification. Piatek was having a quiet game, but that was because the ball barely ever reached him. He tried to get them focused for the second period, but to no avail. Denmark came close several times before Jakob Iverson eventually escaped his marker to score. Tails up, the Danes pushed forward. Poland were lucky to escape with a draw.
It was an inauspicious start.
Last edited by Fourfourtwo; 24-05-16 at 11:19 AM.
Good stuff so far, always nice when a striker hits the ground running
Come on the Danes!
Luís Olivera kept a playing card in the inside pocket of his suit for big games. His mother had died before he was 10 so he was raised by a combination of his father (a successful salesman) and an elderly housekeeper named Dores. His father was killed by a massive heart attack at 74. At the time, Olivera had just taken over at União. He took a break for a few days later that year to clear the old family home ready for sale. Up in the attic, in amongst a pile of books, he'd found the king of spades all on its own. It was from a pack he remembered his father using to amuse him with card tricks as a kid. He tucked it into his pocket before leaving the house he grew up in for the final time and it had stayed close to him ever since. It was his lucky charm. But it was only on his person for the biggest of matches - his superstition being that it only had a limited amount of luck to dispense. It was with him for the Taça de Portugal final in 2020 for instance, when his Vitoria side overcame Arouca 2-0 and he won his first major silverware as a manager. And it was with him for the England match too...
They’d need luck. Germany’s easy victory over Denmark made Poland’s struggles all the more worrying. And the fixture against England was ‘do or die’ for both teams. The English press were still engaged in a lengthy post-mortem of the Germany game and there was huge pressure on their players to turn it around. In particular, the fans were demanding performances from the two players who were considered to be genuinely world class - Shane Carter and Liam Dyson. Motivation and pressure were both present.
At the whistle, England didn’t look motivated by the pressure though – they looked like a bag of nerves. Poland, encouraged, got at them right away and were unlucky not to score twice through Kowalski and Sidorczuk. Piatek finally got his first sight of goal on 30 minutes but, overeager, he spooned his shot over. Olivera was beginning to rue the missed chances, but he needn’t have worried. Kowalski’s deep cross and Wojcik’s bullet header put the Poles 1-0 up. And English heads sank into English hands.
The second half opened with waves of England pressure. But the Polish defence dealt with everything they could throw. After about 10 minutes of that, the game settled into a pattern – frustrated English attacks dying out early and inaccurate counters from Poland rarely threatening to increase the margin. It was over.
Back in England, the Sun led with: ‘Pole-axed – Beattie’s boys take a bashing’.
Last edited by Fourfourtwo; 24-05-16 at 11:22 AM.
Fantastic, the king of spades did its job! A point against Germany will do it then, or if England get anything against Denmark too - you're certainly in with a good shout now. We should have known all along that England would balls it up!
As a Scotsman, I can honestly say that I enjoyed that final update the best ... No .... the one where Germany beat them was quite good too.
You have got to be in with a great shout of progressing. Germany v Poland is always a big one for the fans. I can't see Denmark doing any better than a 1-0 win, so even a narrow defeat would be OK. One thing going against you is that if Germany win 2-0 and Denmark 1-0 you tie with the Danes on everything. I'm not certain, but I think it then goes on alphabetical order.
Best of luck
The artist formally known as The Eejit
Come on the Da...oh...bugger.
The group match between Poland and Germany would be talked about for decades to come. Fathers would tell their sons about it before their third birthdays. If every Pole who said they were there had actually been there, they would have filled the stadium six times over.
Of course, it helped that the German-Polish football rivalry was already one of the fiercest in football. Even ignoring the obvious scars from the Second World War, Germany and Poland had been at each other’s throats for hundreds of years. You could trace it back to the 15th century if you wanted – the Teutonic knights from Prussia overcome by the Polish-Lithuanian army. On the pitch, Germany had always had the upper hand and Poland had never beaten them. Never. Prior to their Euro 2008 clash, Polish national newspaper Super Express provoked outrage in Germany by depicting Poland coach Leo Beenhakker clutching the severed heads of captain Michael Ballack and coach Joachim Loew. Poland lost 2-0.
The Germany team this time around had been refreshed slightly from the World Cup failure, but familiar faces remained. Jorg Halfar, a terrific utility player Olivera had bought and sold at Madrid, was central. Tobias Peters – a left sided attacker – was among the best players in the world. And Timo Werner, the veteran Hamburg striker, was still banging goals in despite being in his mid-thirties.
Poland needed a point to qualify for the quarters.
The game was remarkable from the start.
The Poles, racing out of the blocks, caught Germany cold. Piatek ran past several players from the half way line and slid the ball past Maier after just five minutes. Poland ecstatic. Germany silenced.
It was end to end. Either team could have scored several times but it looked like they’d go into the break at 1-0. Wojcik, having a great tournament, had other thoughts though and headed in from Sidorczuk's cross.
2-0 at half time. The Polish fans could barely believe it.
Germany pressed forward after the break but couldn’t find a way through. In their increasing desperation, they left holes at the back. Piatek found one of them, getting on the end of a cross and guiding the ball home on 60 minutes.
Surely nothing could take away victory now.
But almost immediately a crisis unfolded. The Polish keeper, Mateusz Czykier, went down clutching his knee. His untried replacement, Sylwester Gaca, came on and immediately conceded a goal from Schmitz. All of a sudden, confidence turned to apprehension.
But who should emerge to restore the Poles’ position? Robert Piatek, nailing down a place in the history books with a major tournament hat-trick scored against their biggest rivals. The goal followed a wonderful run from Wolski.
Even then it was not over. Timo Werner turned back the clock with a clinical finish from Germany’s very next attack.
The Germans attacked. The Poles struck back. No quarter was given.
The whistle went. A victory for the ages had been achieved.
Great update. Congrats on a fantastic win and alphabetical order was never going to be an option.
Bookies favorites to win the Euros now ?
The artist formally known as The Eejit
A remarkable start, but the away games will be tough!!!
Do Poland knight people?
They should. And if they did. Piatek would be at the front of the line!
In the days following the victory over Germany, it was hard to put things in context beyond the fact that Poland had finally – finally – put one over on their oldest rivals. The fans and press seemed to have almost been forgotten that the win meant the Poles would be going through to the quarter finals as group winners. They also had one of the stars of the tournament in Robert Piatek.
It wasn’t all upside. Olivera’s medical staff quickly confirmed that Mateusz Czykier’s knee injury would rule him out for the rest of the tournament. That presented a real headache as the quarter finals began.
The first was a tightly fought contest with Russia edging out Belgium 2-1. The standout fixture from the draw was next up, with reigning world and European champions Spain facing the Germans. Despite the surprise defeat to Poland, many pundits were predicting a tough challenge for Pep’s boys. But in the end they were just too good, easing through as 2-0 winners. That was two of the four semi final berths filled. Poland and Italy would contest the third.
It's only Italy
But were there no return matches to be played in the group phase???