After 12 excruciating years, Poland have made it back to the World Cup, returning as a dark-horse in the competition after topping their group in WCQ and currently being ranked 8th in the FIFA rankings.
The Biało-czerwoni have the most Serie A representatives (7) among the 32 nations heading to Russia for the 2018 edition of the tournament, and since 2008 when there were 0 Poles plying their trade in Italy’s top flight, 14 are now active on the Peninsula in what appears to be an evolving trend by the year.
Here are those seven Polish internationals manager Adam Nawałka has called upon to make the trip to Russia.
1. Wojciech Szczęsny (GK, Juventus): The former Arsenal backstop played a pivotal role for his new club Juventus last season despite entering as second fiddle for Gianluigi Buffon. His 14 clean-sheets in 21 starts for Bianconeri proved that he is truly elite and deserving of Poland’s number one spot.
2. Piotr Zieliński (MID, Napoli): ‘Zielu’ enjoyed a marvelous season in Naples this last Serie A campaign, despite his stats not jumping off the page. The 24-year old midfielder was one of Napoli’s most influential players in 2017-18, and the hope amongst Poles is that he can take that same developmental leap internationally in Russia and prove the Kevin De Bruyne comparisons aren’t so farfetched.
3. Arkadiusz Milik (ATT, Napoli): Milik’s endured a rough two seasons since moving to Italy, sustaining not one, but two ACL tears and losing his starting spot to Dries Mertens. Yet, the ex-Ajax striker made a positive impact down the stretch for Napoli in the title chase and showed an important fitness level that gives plenty of optimism he can be a force once again. All eyes are on Robert Lewandowski in Russia, but Milik could be the key to Poland’s hopes of making a deep run.
4. Karol Linetty (MID, Sampdoria): Sampdoria came up short in their quest for European football last season, yet Linetty was one of the reasons why Marco Giampaolo’s men were able to contend in the first place. Linetty’s runs from the midfield and coverage will play a role in Russia for Poland, and do not be surprised to see him emerge as a sleeper star in the tournament.
5. Bartosz Bereszyński (DEF, Sampdoria): The Lech Poznań academy product spent his first full season in Italy as the starting right-back for Sampdoria, totaling 31 appearances in the league. Bereszyński is perhaps overlooked by many since he has only 6 caps to his name, but that should not deter any from recognising his importance on the back end for Nawałka’s slim defensive line.
6. Dawid Kownacki (ATT, Sampdoria): As the final piece to Sampdoria’s Lech Poznań contingent, 21-year old Dawid Kownacki impressed in his first season in 2017-18, this despite having to grind for minutes behind Fabio Quagliarella and Duvan Zapata. The baby-faced striker tallied a respectable 8 goals and 3 assists in just 921 minutes across all competitions. Expect Nawałka to get creative with Kownacki as a substitute and use him in different roles as he is fully capable of escaping the confines of the penalty area to make a difference.
7. Thiago Cionek (DEF, SPAL): The Brazilian-born central defender of Polish descent has spent the last six or so seasons in Italy at various clubs like Padova, Modena, Palermo and SPAL where he currently resides. Cionek made the final cut, but was behind both Kamil Glik and Michał Pazdan in the pecking order. However, with Glik likely out of the tournament with a shoulder injury, there is the possibility of Cionek playing a larger role as Poland need their defence to tighten up; 14 goals conceded in WCQ is simply too high.
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