Thu, May 04, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Poland expects to feel at home when World Cup begins


After a long flight to South Korea and a short stay at the last World Cup, Poland will welcome the short trip to Germany.

The team, now led by coach Pawel Janas, is anxious to leave behind the bitter memories of its brief campaign in Asia four years ago, where it was outscored 6-0 in its first two matches and failed to advance to the second round.

Now, Poland is back in the World Cup, having eased through qualifying and finishing second in its group behind England. The Poles advanced as one of the top two second-place teams in Europe, and will face Ecuador, Costa Rica and host Germany in Group A.

Polish fans are dreaming of a performance to rival the country's past football glories in Germany -- a third-place finish at the 1974 World Cup in West Germany and a gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

And with hundreds of thousands of Poles living in Germany and the games just a hop across the border, the tournament will be almost like playing at home.

"There are definitely going to be a ton of Polish fans there to root us on," Janas said, adding that the team will have better support than in South Korea.

And hopefully a better showing, too.

After being the first European team to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, Poland underestimated South Korea, looking ahead to its second match with Portugal. The South Koreans beat the Poles 2-0 before Portugal routed a despondent Polish side 4-0, knocking Poland out of the tournament.

The team's performance was so dismal that after landing at Warsaw's airport, the players were afraid to get off the bus in front of a crowd of fans waiting at the main terminal.

Janas denies being influenced by the team's 2002 experience, but he is clearly avoiding steps taken four years ago.

He remains focused on the opening match with Ecuador and is trying not to look ahead to Poland's second match with rival Germany. The Poles have never beaten their neighbors, going 0-10-4, including a 1-0 loss on a water-logged pitch in Frankfurt at the 1974 World Cup.

"If the game with Ecuador goes well, then the match with Germany will not be such a load," Janas said. "They are a strong team, one that at times has been stronger than us and beaten us. I hope that during this World Cup we've done everything to change that."

Janas said the Polish team does not boast any fantastic individual talents, but a strong attack and team play have made it successful.

Celtic's Maciej Zurawski and Wolverhampton's Tomek Frankowski lead an attack that averaged almost three goals a game in qualifiers. Borussia Dortmund's Euzebiusz Smolarek, Bayer Leverkusen's Jacek Krzynowek and playmaker Miroslaw Szymkowiak from Trabzonspor anchor the midfield.

In goal, Janas has the luxury of two top-class goalkeepers -- Liverpool's Jerzy Dudek and Celtic's Artur Boruc. Janas has yet to announce who will start in goal, however.

But Poland's overall defensive play has been a weak point. They almost blew a two-goal lead in the final minutes of a crucial qualifier with Austria.

"There weren't any matches in which we conceded three or four goals, and we score a lot," Janas said. "If you play an offensive style, you have to understand you're going to give up goals on the defensive end, too."

Poland lost to the US 1-0 and beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 in its only two warmup matches this year.

Janas said he isn't thrilled with his team's recent form, but he remains upbeat.

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