Having already got the better of Germany in qualifying, Poland will now attempt to upstage its far more distinguished neighbor on the big stage at Euro 2016. The two countries will meet at the Stade de France on Thursday tied at three points apiece at the top of Group C. After opening wins, both sides have the opportunity to seal a place in the Round of 16 and gain the upper hand in the battle for top spot. But also at stake are priceless bragging rights between the two rivals.
With four World Cups and three European Championships, Germany has long cast its neighbor in a long shadow. But now, with what may well be its best squad for 30 years, when it reached the semifinals of the 1982 World Cup and the last 16 four years later, Poland will be looking to make its mark.
A 1-0 win over Northern Ireland on Sunday, secured by a second-half goal from Arkadiusz Milik, may not have been spectacular, but it was the first time Poland had started a major tournament with a win since finishing third in the 1974 World Cup. In recent years, Poland has twice come unstuck against Germany in the group stage, at both the World Cup in 2006 and the European Championship two years later.
Yet it now has a team led by the man who finished as top scorer in the Bundesliga last season, Robert Lewandowski, as well as Borussia Dortmund right-back Lukasz Piszczek and former teammate Jakub Blaszczykowski and Sevilla’s dominant midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak. There is certainly no reason for Poland to be intimidated by the challenge of taking on Germany.
Poland showed it had no fear in qualifying when winning 2-0 in Warsaw just four months after Germany became world champions.
“Winning against Germany in the Euro qualifiers was a really important moment for the development of this team,” Poland coach Adam Nawalka said in his pre-match press conference. “But with our good players, such important wins would have come around sooner or later.
“We believe in ourselves but we face one of the best teams in the world so it is going to be very, very difficult. Every game here is a special day for us. We are proud we are here representing Poland.”
In recent years Poland has had to endure the sight of two players born in Poland, Mirosalv Klose and Lukas Podolski, climbing to first and third on Germany’s all-time list of scorers. Yet Germany must now wish they held claim to Poland’s current top marksman, Lewandowski.
A top-class striker is the one thing Germany has struggled to produce in recent years, with 30-year-old Mario Gómez brought into the setup as the sole center forward in its Euro 2016 squad. In its opening game against Ukraine, Germany coach Joachim Löw started with out-of-form Bayern Munich attacking midfielder Mario Götze as the furthest man forward. And, while Germany eventually sealed a 2-0 win when Bastian Schweinsteiger came off the bench to add a late goal to Shkodran Mustafi’s first-half opener, Löw’s side didn’t have things all its own way. Löw, though, insists criticism of Götze, in particular, has been unjust.
“For me, Götze was not as bad as the critics made out,” he said on Wednesday. “I think that he ran a crazy amount and did a lot for the team. Gomez has trained well and is in good form. Both would be ideal candidates for the game against Poland.”
Löw also has a decision to make at the back. Mustafi was only playing against Ukraine because of an injury to Mats Hummels. And the Valencia man could get another start with Löw insisting he will take no chances with Hummels’ fitness.
“We will speak with him again this evening and decide whether he can play or not. I will not risk him. If he is not 100 percent fit or perhaps has a slight discomfort, then he will not play.”
Prediction: With a team that is solidly set up and has someone of the quality of Robert Lewandowski up front, Poland is certainly capable of causing an upset. To avoid that fate, Germany must be more ruthless going forward while cutting out the gaps it can often leave on the counterattack. This may be the group game where Germany has to settle for a share of the points.
Predicted Score: Germany 1-1 Poland
Kickoff Time: 3 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: Watch ESPN