Polska: A Must-Win Game For The Host

How big is Poland's final group game against the Czech Republic? Let's just say that Poland knows it has to win to advance to the Euro 2012 quarterfinals, and it will have a stadium full of support on a historic day for Polish soccer. "This is probably the biggest game in the past 30 years for the Polish national team. The old Polish cliche is that the third group match is always about going home and saving face. Most Polish fans have never experienced anything like this before in Polish football," said Kuba Krzyzostaniak, a Polish football expert.

A golden generation of Polish players reached the semifinals of the 1982 World Cup, but results in big tournaments have been disappointing over the last three decades. Co-hosting Euro 2012 provides an opportunity to make history, and Poles everywhere are confident that their team can bounce the Czechs. "This is definitely the most important game of my career, and for all of our team. We've had five weeks of preparation, and we want to give everything. If we do that, we'll definitely win," Polish midfielder Eugen Polanski said.

Both Poland and Czech Republic have entered the final game of Group A play in control of their own destinies. Neither is an elite side in European football and neither was favored to win the group, so they couldn't have asked for much more than to be in a position where they don't need any help. Poland are in the quarterfinals with a win and out with any other result. The Czech Republic are in with a win and could potentially be in with a draw, if things break their way in the other match.

Nothing has been easy for either side thus far, and both have had long stretches over their first two matches where they have played some very good football. Both have also had long stretches of bad football. The Czech Republic's lows have been lower than Poland's, but they also have three points to their name, while Poland has two.

Tomas Rosicky is a key player for the Czech Republic and is a serious injury doubt for the group finale. He entered the tournament with fitness issues and had to exit in the 45th minute with an ankle injury. Whether Czech Republic play with Rosicky, Kolar or a second striker, they're going to give Poland a bit of a different look from what they saw in the first two games of the tournament. Greece played a very conservative and rigid 4-3-3, while Russia played a much more fluid version of the same formation. The Czechs are not terribly solid in the midfield, and Dariusz Dudka could be a key man in the match against Poland.

The Poles arguably have more talent in every area of the pitch, and it might just come down to whether they're able to finish their chances. They hit the target nine times against Russia in a very good performance, but managed to score only once. Poland actually outplayed Russia for the vast majority of their last game, and shouldn't be in a situation where they have to win to go through to the quarterfinals. Robert Lewandowski had a couple of decent chances against Russia and a goal against Greece, but he has gone missing for a long period of time in both matches. He's Poland's biggest talent and the Czech Republic's central defenders are nothing special. In front of a home crowd, in a must-win game, he needs to take over.

I'll admit it, as a neutral I'd like to see Poland win and progress. There's nothing like the infectious energy of a host country making a tournament run, and the Polish team won my respect with the way it came back to tie Russia the other day. A giant national party is only 90 minutes away.

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