Poland only needed to win one of its remaining games in the European play-offs to qualify for the World Cup, but getting there was an emotional roller coaster.
They finished second in Group I behind England, but owing to the odd decision of Portuguese head coach Paulo Sousa to field a weaker team in the last game against Hungary, Poland were defeated 2-1. As a result, Poland went into the play-offs unseeded and were drawn away to Russia.
It came as a surprise to everyone when Sousa decided to end his contract in December, and Czeslaw Michniewicz took over in January. As soon as war erupted in Ukraine, the chairman of the Polish Football Association (FA), Cezary Kulesza, together with the players, made an official announcement that they would not play the “aggressor’s squad.”
As a result of FIFA and UEFA excluding Russia from all events, Poland was granted automatic entry into the play-off final. In Chorzow, Poland surprised everyone by playing really well and defeating Sweden 2-0.
Michniewicz began his first four matches as head coach with four different formations (3-4-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2, and 4-5-1), and he always made further alterations during the games themselves based on the circumstances. The man, who was 52 years old, provided an explanation, saying, “We must have options.”
Following Paulo Sousa’s surprise departure, he assumed control of the situation and was referred to as “an expert for exceptional duties.”
READY TO SHINE
The reigning champion of the European Golden Shoe award for the last two seasons, the player with the most international appearances and goals scored for Poland.