How good is football in Poland

Football in Poland: In search of the golden generation

The golden days of Polish football go back more than four decades. In 1972, the People's Republic's selection surprisingly won a gold medal at the Olympic Games. In the course of the tournament, the still legendary team around striker Grzegorz Lato defeated three favorites from socialist brother states: the GDR, the Soviet Union and the Hungarian selection in the final.

Even two years later, at the World Cup finals in Germany, they seemed unstoppable with their internationally acclaimed offensive football. In the semifinals, however, in the legendary "water battle" of Frankfurt, they lost unhappily against the host and later world champion. Poland finished fourth.

Crash into second class

At the latest with the political change it happened to the Polish football - for a good ten years it was languishing. Although the national team took part in the World Cup finals in 2002 and 2006, they were eliminated in the preliminary round without a sound.

And also the domestic league called "Ekstraklasse" was considered to be at most second class in European comparison. Nothing about that has ever changed. The Polish clubs regularly fail to qualify for European competitions or at the latest in the preliminary round. Away from the square, the once popular national sport degenerated into a reservoir for violent hooligans and nationalists.

The orientation of the EM ensures an upswing

But in 2007 UEFA announced that Poland and neighboring Ukraine would host the 2012 European Championship together. Despite major reservations, mainly because of the expected costs: The upcoming EM caused a construction boom in Poland. Stadiums, airports and train stations were refurbished. The motorway network should be greatly expanded before the start of the EM. But the closer the day of the opening game got, the more doubts arose, because many construction projects threatened not to be completed, especially the motorway from Berlin to Warsaw. The Poles feared making themselves a mockery internationally. But when the ball rolled in the newly built Warsaw National Stadium on June 7, 2012, the reservations were no longer noticeable. Their own team was eliminated in the preliminary round after three games without a win, but the atmosphere this summer was splendid. Europe marveled at modern, new Poland. And the Poles, used to being disparaged, enjoyed the attention and recognition.

Hooligans fight each other

In Warsaw in particular, the new self-esteem could be observed: tens of thousands celebrated despite the departure. But there was also an ugly acquaintance. Before the group game between Poland and Russia, hooligans on both sides fought street battles on a Vistula bridge. Dozens of people were injured.

Turning point

"Since the European Championship," you sometimes hear from Poland when they describe a turn for the better. A lot has changed since the EM. The infrastructure was of course retained, as was the new sense of self-worth. And sport has also been on the up since then. The "Ekstraklasa" is still a niche existence, but the clubs have greatly improved their youth work. And word got around in Europe. Well-trained Polish players are in great demand. In May 2016, midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak won the Euro League with Sevilla FC; Ajax Amsterdam striker Arkadiusz Milik is on the shopping list of all top European clubs and Robert Lewandowski is widely considered to be the most complete center forward in the world at the moment.