The Red and White have a superstar. They seemed to always have a superstar Be it in the old days of the Eastern Block, behind the Iron Curtain, where the players were playing mainly in the Polish League and were not allowed to join elite teams out in the west, or when the gates were open and top players were playing on a regular basis for top reams in top leagues. But there seemed to always to be the one special player who set the imagination with his ability, who could do the unthinkable, who could score the most amazing goals.
The first world cup Poland ever played in was indeed a memorable one. The national team's match in the 1938 tournament in France ended with a 5-6 defeat to Brazil, but Ernest Wilimowski scored all five goals for Poland. Then came the absence. A very long absence, of four decades. And then Poland came back to World Cup competition, and it was with a bang. And a first superstar was born.
Only a handful of people noticed, but Poland won the 1972 Munich Olympic gold medal under the watchful eyes of coach Kazimierz Gorski. And then came Lato. Grzegorz Lato. He had long hair, but he was almost bald. He was fast, the ball seemed to never leave his feet. And he could score at will. Oh, and Lato never left Poland to play for top European clubs, so he was a secret the world of football has yet to meet. Before Poland was done, Lato would score 7 goals and will be awarded the tournament's Golden Shoe for top goal scorer. Before Lato was done, Poland came out of nowhere and beat Argentina 3-2, Haiti 7-0 and Italy 2-1 in the group stage. And on Poland went, up to the semi-finals against host and eventual champions West Germany. After a 0-1 agonizing defeat, Poland beat power house Brazil to clinch 3rd place on a Lato (who else?) goal.
For the 1978 FIFA World Cup Argentina, Poland had another superstar in the making: Zbigniew Boniek. Unlike Lato, Boniek was lucky and allowed to play outside Poland, and he won a handful of trophies for Juventus and Roma, both in Italy and Europe. For the national team, Boniek helped the team advance out of the group stage into the second group stage, where both Argentina and Brazil were waiting, the humiliation of four years ago well remembered. The champions in-waiting Argentina beat Poland 2-0 and Brazil followed with a 3-1 win. In between, Poland beat Peru.
Four years later, Poland again stunned the world of football, this time in Spain. It was Lato's last hurrah for the national team, but it was Boniek who was on fire, including a hat-track against Belgium in the 2nd group stage. Eventually, Poland settled for a 3rd place after beating France 3-2.
Poland has not repeated those achievements since. As a matter of fact, the national team has found it difficult even to qualify for the world cup, doing so twice since 1986.
The Poland national team play its home games in the 58,145 seat National Stadium in Warsaw. Its most capped player is Michael Zewlakow with 102 international appearances, and Lato is second with 100. Top goal scorer is the team's superstar, Robert Lewandowski, with 51 goals in 91 caps and counting. Lato, by the way, scored 45 goals and Boniek 24.
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