May 24 (Reuters) - Factbox on the Poland national team ahead of the 2018 World Cup:
FIFA ranking: 10 (till June 7)
This is the eighth World Cup for Poland and the first since 2006. They lost 6-5 after extra time against Brazil in their 1938 debut before twice finishing third, in 1974 and 1982. However, this century Poland failed to reach the knockout phase in 2002 and 2006, finishing fourth and third in their group respectively. Their last appearance in the last 16 was in 1986.
Coach: Adam Nawalka
Nawalka, 60, is a former Poland midfielder who played at the 1978 World Cup and was capped 34 times. His career ended shy of his 28th birthday due to injuries. Nawalka became a coach in 1996 and managed several Polish clubs, including his boyhood team Wisla Krakow where he won the championship as a player and manager. He was Leo Beenhakker’s assistant at Euro 2008 before taking over the national side in October 2013. After nearly five years at the helm he became the first coach to lead the White and Reds to the European Championship and World Cup. Reaching the Euro 2016 quarter-final marks Nawalka’s biggest achievement. Only Kazimierz Gorski and Antoni Piechniczek, who each steered Poland to third-place finishes at the World Cup, have spent longer in charge of the national team than Nawalka.
Robert Lewandowski: Talismanic Bayern Munich striker with the biggest influence on Poland’s style of play and confidence, he was the leading scorer in Europe’s World Cup qualifying campaign. He was also top scorer in the Bundesliga this season for the third time since he began playing in Germany in 2010 — the first non-German to achieve the feat. Poland failed to score when Lewandowski was rested in friendlies against Uruguay and Mexico in November. Last year he became Poland’s record scorer with 52 goals in 93 appearances, beating Wlodzimierz Lubanski. Had a disappointing Euro 2016 campaign, blaming fatigue.
Kamil Glik: French media have dubbed the Monaco centre-back “the rock” which sums him up nicely. The 30-year-old has a reputation as a rugged defender with a flair for scoring stunning goals. Last year he won the Ligue 1 title and played in the Champions League semi-final, having scored an amazing goal against Bayer Leverkusen as Monaco took top spot in their group.
Grzegorz Krychowiak: The 28-year-old defensive midfielder was a key player during Euro 2016. He closed down the space in front of the defence and broke up opposition attacks. However, after joining Paris Saint-Germain from Sevilla in June 2016, he struggled to establish himself given their attacking style of play. He made only 11 league appearances last term so to get more playing minutes he moved on loan to West Bromwich Albion, failing to stop them being relegated from the Premier League.
After booking a place in Russia, Nawalka switched from a back four to a three-man defence for tactical flexibility. The transition was difficult, resulting in a goalless draw against Uruguay and 1-0 defeats by Mexico and Nigeria in friendlies — the worst run of results under Nawalka. The Poles claimed their first victory with the new formation by beating South Korea 3-2 in March thanks to Piotr Zielinski’s last-gasp winner.
How they qualified:
Poland led their group almost from start to finish, finishing with eight wins, one draw and a defeat. Lewandowski was top scorer in Europe’s qualifying campaign with 16 of Poland’s 28 goals. Their record looks quite impressive but many of those games, such as at home to Armenia and in Montenegro, were hard-fought victories. Poland also suffered a 4-0 defeat by Denmark in Copenhagen, their heaviest loss of Nawalka’s tenure.
Poland used a loophole that allowed them to boost their seeding for the World Cup draw by avoiding friendly matches, with the world rankings on which the seedings are based being weighted to ensure qualifiers have more significance than friendlies. From the end of Euro 2016 to the completion of World Cup qualifying, Poland played only one friendly, at home to Slovenia. They were thus in Pot 1, among the best teams.
Poland’s strong performance at Euro 2016 meant their fans looked to the 2018 World Cup with a sense of hope. Reaching the quarter-finals two years ago was the team’s best run at a major tournament for decades. Poland have been drawn against Senegal, Colombia and Japan in Russia. The first reaction in the country was quite optimistic but on further reflection Group H is considered one of the most unpredictable and even at the finals. Optimism has also been undermined by problems the players have faced at their clubs. The team are not as strong as at Euro 2016 but the main objective remains to reach the last 16 for the first time in 32 years. (Editing by Ken Ferris)