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By Adrian Krajewski
WARSAW, June 5 (Reuters) - Poland striker Robert Lewandowski’s 22 Bundesliga goals drove Borussia Dortmund to their second straight league title last season and the Euro 2012 co-hosts are pinning their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals firmly on him.
Muscular and strong in the air, Lewandowski was the third top scorer in the German top flight, also bagging a hat-trick in a 5-2 drubbing of Bayern Munich in the German Cup final.
At international level, his 14 goals in 42 games have led the Poles, the lowest ranked side in this year’s finals, on a six-game unbeaten run since a 2-0 loss to Italy late last year.
Lewandowski and Dortmund team mate Jakub Blaszczykowski also scored the goals that took the Poles within a whisker of beating Germany in a 2-2 draw last September.
“It is very important to us that we have a player like Robert in the side,” team spokesman Tomasz Rzasa told a news conference ahead of the Euro 2012 opener against Greece in Warsaw on Friday.
“But we have to underline that there are 11 players in a team. This side will stand or fall by how well it defends together and works together.”
Lewandowski, still just 23, is painfully aware of the host nation’s expectations ahead of the tournament, the first to be held behind the old “Iron Curtain” that once divided Europe.
“Advancing from the group is the minimum target, but I hope we will be capable of more than that,” he told Reuters earlier this year.
Poland, the largest ex-communist European Union member since 2004, hopes a successful organisation of the tournament will bring some international recognition and promote its economic success abroad.
The country’s soccer fans have had little to celebrate since Poland finished third at the 1982 World Cup finals, but are hopeful of progressing from a first round group including Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic.
“The group is so balanced that any team may win over the other, which only makes it more interesting. Nuances will decide on who goes further,” Lewandowski said.
”It’s a rare thing to play a championship tournament in one’s own country. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any player really.
“And speaking from a wider perspective, Poland will benefit from it as a country. Many stadiums and roads have been built, other investments go on. Numerous football fans will come to see this is a country worth visiting.”
Lewandowski, who is valued at about 15 million euros ($18.74 million), signed a new four-year contract at Dortmund in 2010, but he also said he hopes to try his luck in England or Spain at some stage. ($1 = 0.8003 euros) (Additional reporting by Patrick Graham and Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Ken Ferris)