Buoyed by a three-game unbeaten run, Poland are bracing for one of the toughest games of their campaign to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, against an England team empowered by a 5-0 defeat of minnows San Marino.
History has taught England not to underestimate the Poles, who famously deprived them of a berth at the 1974 World Cup in a crunch qualifier at Wembley.
Although today’s Poland are a far cry from that generation, who went on to finish third in the finals in West Germany, they are rated as one of the strongest teams in a Group H that also includes Ukraine, Montenegro and Moldova.
“Alongside ourselves and Ukraine, Poland bear the burden of being favourites and it will be a tough game,” said England manager Roy Hodgson ahead of Tuesday’s game.
Hodgson has been inconvenienced by injury, with Chelsea duo Frank Lampard and Ryan Bertrand both ruled out, along with Theo Walcott, who sustained a chest injury in a heavy challenge by San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini.
Lampard’s absence, however, is slightly offset by the return from suspension of captain Steven Gerrard.
“We’re expecting a much more difficult game on Tuesday night,” said Everton defender Phil Jagielka, whose Polish roots will give the trip to Warsaw a sentimental edge.
Danny Welbeck, who, like Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney, scored a brace against San Marino at Wembley on Friday, was gung-ho.
“It’s going to be difficult but once we get on the pitch, we’re going to show our stuff and show everybody what we can do,” he said.
With Poland not having a qualifier on Friday, they opted for a friendly against South Africa.
While their 1-0 win was hardly the performance of the century, coming up trumps in Warsaw’s Kazimierz Gorski Stadium was a psychological boost for manager Waldemar Fornalik, who has struggled to convince fans since taking the helm in July following Poland’s disappointing showing as co-hosts of Euro 2012.
But he has been swift to play down expectations against England in the same arena on Tuesday night, saying his squad will have their work cut out.
“Don’t forget that we are playing one of the best teams in Europe. In this respect, we can’t rush in,” said Fornalik.
The point, he said, is to keep the engine running through the rest of the qualifying campaign, which has already seen the Poles draw 2-2 in Montenegro before winning 2-0 at home to Moldova.
“Whatever the result against England, it won’t be a matter of one step forward or two steps back. We’ve set out a path and we plan to stick to it,” he explained.
Lacking talismanic captain Kuba Blaszczykowski, out with an ankle injury, Fornalik also kept the midfielder’s Borussia Dortmund team-mates, defender Lukasz Piszczek and striker Robert Lewandowski, on the bench against South Africa.
Lewandowski’s stand-in, 22-year-old Hannover striker Artur Sobiech, was stretchered off with concussion against South Africa, but team staff said he should be fit to face England.
Fornalik freshened his squad for the South Africa game with untested youngsters including Polonia Warsaw’s highly-rated Pawel Wszolek, 20.
He also recalled forgotten names such as Marcin Komorowski of Russian club Terek Grozny.
The 28-year-old defender, first capped in 2008, scored his debut international goal against South Africa in what was just his seventh appearance.
Another belated Poland star is 22-year-old midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak, who has picked up just four caps since 2008 but who has been one of the stand-out performers in the French top flight this season with Reims.
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