?While Poland have been far from a consistent heavyweight in the international football arena, the European nation have enjoyed some relative success over the years.
Their golden generation of the late 1970s and early 80s hit new peaks, but those heights have proved insurmountable ever since. However, Polish football is once again on the rise.
While many are not expecting a great deal from Poland at the upcoming Euro 2020 tournament, they remain potential dark horses in the competition, and with arguably the world’s best striker in Robert Lewandowski they have a real shot at writing their name into the Eagles’ history books.
With that in mind, let’s reminisce over some of Poland’s greatest achievements on the international stage.
Beating Italy at the 1974 World Cup
Having seldom been seen at the World Cup, Poland entered the 1974 tournament with the anonymity and lack of expectation that allowed them to strive for greatness. Having just won gold at the 1972 Munich Olympics – an achievement that wasn’t as glamorous as it appears to be in the modern day – the Eagles came into the German World Cup in high spirits.
Having beaten Argentina 3-2 and Haiti 7-0 in their first two matches – largely due to the impressive displays of Grzegorz Lato who netted a brace in both games – Poland’s fiercest test was still to come.
Next in line were Italy, who had finished runners-up at the 1970 World Cup just four years previously.
But the Eagles had no fear, racing into a two goal half-time lead courtesy of strikes from
Finishing Third in the 1974 World Cup
In the third-place playoff, the Europeans took on the mighty Brazil – a nation that had emphatically lifted their third World Cup just four years earlier. With the likes of Rivellino and Jairzinho in their ranks, few gave Poland a chance of claiming the bronze, but the plucky Eagles would prove the doubters wrong.
Lato would grab the only goal of the game in the 76th minute, marvelling in the euphoria of toppling the three-time world champions in front of approximately 77,000 people at the Olympiastadion. This was Poland’s greatest ever international achievement, and Lato would finish as the tournament’s top scorer with seven goals.
Zbigniew Boniek’s Hat-Trick Against Belgium
?Eight years on from their success in 1974, Poland were back in the big time again in the 1982 World Cup in Spain. The Eagles qualified from a tricky looking group, edging into the next round following two goalless draws with Cameroon and Italy and a 5-1 victory over Peru.
Awaiting Poland in the second group stage were Belgium and the Soviet Union. Up first were the Belgians, and Boniek’s inspired performance made light work of the Red Devils.
A sensational 53-minute hat-trick would enter Boniek’s name into World Cup folklore, with the Pole scoring a fierce thunderbolt from the edge of the box and a looping header following a lovely move, as well as rounding the goalkeeper with ease to complete his trio.
A goalless draw against the Soviets saw Poland into the semi finals, where they were beaten 2-0 by Italy before edging France 3-2 in the third place playoff.
Penalty Shootout Glory in 2016
After a long spell without influence in international football, Poland achieved their best finish at a major tournament since 1982 at the last European Championships.
Entering only their third ever Euros in 2016, Poland managed to clamber out of a group containing Germany, Ukraine and Northern Ireland. Their reward was an evenly-matched round of 16 tie with Switzerland – a game that ended 1-1 after extra time, courtesy of goals from Jakub Blaszczykowski and Xherdan Shaqiri.
It would take penalties to separate the pair, with Poland claiming victory following a tense shootout which finished 5-4 to the Eagles. Poland would later be undone by Portugal on penalties in the quarter-final, but it signalled a significant improvement in the Eastern European side’s performances and results at the Euros.