|Profiles - World Cup Teams - Poland|
After 16 years in the football wilderness, a restyled Poland return to the
2002 World Cup with the tough task of recapturing at least some of the glory
of a generation ago.
Poland's best spell in international soccer spanned the early 1970s and 1980s when they finished third in the World Cups of 1974 and 1982 before crumbling like the Berlin Wall during the years before and after communism's collapse.
Poland had not qualified for any major championship since 1986 until securing their place in next year's World Cup finals.
But a crop of new talent harvested by a revamped football organisation, led by former soccer heroes, has produced a string of impressive results which show Poland are capable of upstaging several contenders in South Korea and Japan.
Poland have lost only once over their last 15 internationals and comfortably won European qualifying group five over the likes of Ukraine, Belarus and Norway.
The turnaround has been largely attributed to Emmanuel Olisadebe, a Nigerian-born striker who gained Polish citizenship in 2000 and scored eight goals in the qualifying campaign.
Fleet-footed Olisadebe, who plays for Panathinaikos in Greece, has also broken the colour barrier in ethnically homogenous Poland, opening the sport for a wider audience and the country's youth.
'Poland without Oli would be a totally different team,' said Polish coach Jerzy Engel, who helped the Nigerian secure a spot at Polish club Polonia Warsaw in the late 1990s.
Olisadebe's scoring prowess is complemented in the resurgent Polish squad by strong defensive play of captain Tomasz Waldoch of Schalke 04 and Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek, who form a 'defensive monolith', according to Engel.
Critics say, however, that Poland lack a strong midfield and continue to have difficulties with positional play, putting pressure on Olisadebe to take advantage of counter attacks.
The football revival is rooted in a breakthrough decision in 1999 to muscle out long-time Polish football boss Marian Dziurowicz, who, his critics say, kept the game muddled by autocracy and cronyism for a full decade after communism was swept out of Poland.
The new management, which include former World Cup greats Zbigniew Boniek, Wladyslaw Zmuda and Jozef Mlynarczyk, have worked hard to rid the game of corruption smears and bring fans back to stadiums.
'What we are seeing on the field now is also a dividend of the changes made by the new football authorities,' said ginger-haired Boniek, Poland's greatest-ever player, a former European Cup winner with Juventus and presently deputy chief of the Polish Football Association.
Engel has played down the pressure of meeting revved up expectations of Polish fans, saying 'world football has moved forward so much since' Poland's glory days.
'Still, I would be extremely happy to repeat those results,' he added.