English Soccer
Emmanuel Olisadebe celebrated scoring a goal at the World Cup. The Nigerian-born player helped guide Poland to the 2002 World Cup by scoring eight goals in qualifying

Pride of the White Eagles: Poland’s victories at the World Cup

Emmanuel Olisadebe celebrated scoring a goal at the World Cup. The Nigerian-born player helped guide Poland to the 2002 World Cup by scoring eight goals in qualifying
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"Pride of the White Eagles: Poland's victories at the World Cup"
Caption: Emmanuel Olisadebe celebrated scoring a goal at the World Cup. The Nigerian-born player helped guide Poland to the 2002 World Cup by scoring eight goals in qualifying
Location: Daejeon, South Korea
Image by: Robyn Beck

They first played at a World Cup in 1938 and its World Cup history is rather brief. Still, Poland has 15 victories to show for in their seven World Cups. Twice had Poland finished third in the World Cup, amassing notable scalps against some of football's best teams. Poland's first World Cup match was a classic that saw a new scoring standard met: Ernst Wilmowski scored four of Poland's goals against Brazil, but it was not enough as Brazil won 6-5. 

When it qualified for the 1938 World Cup, Poland needed goal average to overcome Yugoslavia. Thirty-six years later, Poland needed a dramatic draw at Wembley Stadium to pip England of a spot at the World Cup. It was a result that proved historic for Poland, as it culminated nearly three years of bringing football back in Poland.

He earned only one cap for Poland as a player; but on Dec. 1, 1970 Kazimierz Gorski became Poland's manager. In 1972, Gorski guided Poland to a gold medal at  the Summer Olympics in Munich and followed it up four years later with a silver medal in Montreal. But, Gorski is remembered for what he did in West Germany at the 1974 World Cup. Gorski brought many of those players at the 1974 World Cup: among those were Grzegorz Lato, Kazimierz Deyna and Andrzej Szarmach.

Poland announced its return to the World Cup in style against Argentina on June 15, 1974: Poland raced to a 2-0 lead after eight minutes, as Lato and Szarmach scored. Lato added another goal and Poland won its first World Cup game 3-2 against Argentina. 

Four days later, Poland continued its scoring form against Haiti and did so at will: goals by Lato and Deyna had Poland up 2-0 after only 18 minutes. By halftime, Poland led 5-0, as Szarmach and Jerzy Gorgon combined to score three goals in five minutes. Szarmach completed his hat trick in the 50th minute; Deyna capped of Poland's scoring in the 87th minute.

Poland were assured of a second group stage after demolishing Haiti 7-0; now all that stood from Poland winning its group was Italy. Szarmach and Deyna scored in the first half and Poland led 2-0. Despite allowing a late goal, Poland won 2-1 and in the process eliminated Italy, runners-up four years ago, from the World Cup.

A high scoring offense got Poland this far; timely goals would be key in Poland's progress throughout the tournament. It had been 37 years since Poland defeated Sweden in a football match and their meetings had usually seen a flurry of goals. But Lato continued his goalscoring form as Poland defeated Sweden 1-0. Next up for Poland was Yugoslavia, where Deyna scored another goal and Lato scored another game-winning goal. Poland won 2-1 and set up a simple scenario for Poland ahead of its match with West Germany: win and reach the final. 

Poland had never defeated a Germany team and that record still stood after July 3: a 1-0 loss saw Poland out of the running for the World Cup. But Poland can still salvage third at the tournament on July 6, 1974. Poland's opponent was Brazil and its previous World Cup meeting saw the teams combine for 11 goals. Offenses had gotten both teams this far; but in the end, Poland made history in this game. Lato scored a tournament-high seventh goal; the 1-0 victory was Poland's first (and to date only) victory against Brazil and it capped off Poland's successful run in West Germany. 

Lato opened and closed Poland's scoring in the 1974 World Cup; he would do the same four years later in Argentina, but Poland exited after second group stage in 1978. Poland's first goal at the 1978 World Cup came in the team's second game, as Lato scored before halftime as Poland fended off Tunisia 1-0. Poland needed to fend off West Germany to win its group, but what unfolded in the group stage final against Mexico would become a precursor to a second golden generation four years later. 

That person would come on July 10, 1978: one of Poland's fastest players had his first two goal game come at the World Cup. Zbigniew Boniek scored right before halftime. Poland allowed a tying goal, but Deyna put Poland ahead again before Boniek scored in the 87th minute to give Poland a 3-1 victory and its group. 

Poland may not have had the scoring form that had dazzled at the previous World Cup and Summer Olympics; but it did still have the same players, and one of those players helped Poland have at least a shot at another third place play-off: That player scored five goals in the 1974 World Cup; Szarmach scored the only goal to help Poland defeat Peru 1-0.  did not have the scoring prowess from four years ago. Still, Poland needed a win to have any shot at reaching at least a third place playoff, after having lost to Argentina.

Having scored five goals four years ago in West Germany, Szarmach returned to his scoring ways against an upstart Peru. Szarmach broke a scoreless deadlock in the only goal of the game in the 65th minute as Poland defeated Peru 1-0.

Poland faced Peru fours years later: the 1978 meeting in Mendoza was scoreless at halftime, as was the 1982 meeting in La Coruña, Spain. That 1982 meeting would not end the same, as Poland resurrected a campaign that had been nothing but lackluster.  

Only four players from the 1974 squad were on Poland's 1982 squad, as the nation stumbled to two scoreless draws against Italy and Cameroon and needed to win. Poland was still scoreless after 45 minutes; a 21-minute span in the second half chance Poland's campaign, as five different players scored for Poland.

Wlodzimierz Smolarek, Poland's leading goal scorer in qualifying, scored in the 55th minute. Three minutes later, Lato scored to become the first Polish player to score at three World Cups. That goal would also be Lato's 45th and final goal for Poland. Three minutes after Poland went up 2-0, Boniek extended the led, and Poland was on course to win its group.

Andrzej Buncol put Poland up 4-0 in the 68th minute, while Wlodzimierz Ciolek capped off Poland’s scoring in the 78th minute. Poland allowed a late consolation goal, but they topped its group in emphatic fashion with the 5-1 victory.

Poland's first second group stage game came at the fabled Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain on, where one player had a memorable game. Poland faced Belgium, who had previously upset Argentina to reach this stage. But Poland flew out of the gates, and the player who led the charge was Boniek: his first goal came four minutes into the match. Boniek added another goal in the 26th minute before completing his hat trick in the 53rd minute. The 3-0 victory over Belgium had Poland eventually reach the semi-finals, where Italy denied them of a spot in the final. 

As was the case eight years ago, Poland was looking to finish third in the World Cup against France: the circumstances were different because many players from the previous golden generation were coming at the end of their careers. One player in particular was Szarmach: the third-place game in the 1982 World Cup was his last ever match for Poland. Szarmach still had the scoring prowess that helped him in 1974 and 1978, as he tied the match in the 40th minute. That goal was his 32nd goal for Poland and also his last. Poland gained momentum right before halftime, when Stefan Majewski scored in the 44th minute.

A minute elapsed in the second half and Poland was suddenly up 3-1 when Janusz Kupcewicz scored, and Poland was on course for a third place finish. Despite allowing another goal, Poland was able to send the golden generation off with a 3-2 victory over France. 

Boniek, Smolarek and Dariusz Dziekanowski were among the players that contributed in scoring during Poland's qualifying campaign to reach the 1986 World Cup; defense got Poland to a fourth straight World Cup. Goalkeeper Jozef Mlynarczyk recorded a clean sheet against Belgium during the 1982 World Cup; his clean sheet in a scoreless draw against Belgium sent Poland to the 1986 World Cup over their opponents on goals scored (both nations were tied on goal difference).

Poland's 1986 campaign had only bright spot: Smolarek scored Poland's only goal of the 1986 World Cup, enough to defeat Portugal 1-0.. Poland advanced to the Round of 16; after losing to Brazil, Poland struggled like never before as it slowly faded away from being a European power. 

Poland's only bright spot for the next 14 years came in Barcelona: Andrzej Juskowiak and Wojciech Kowalczyk combined to score 11 goals as Poland won the silver medal in the 1992 Summer Olympics. Both players were unable to get Poland back to the World Cup; instead, the man responsible for Poland's return to the World Cup was a naturalized citizen. 

Born in Nigeria, Emmanuel Olisadebe had led Polonia Warsaw to its first Ekstraklasa in 2000, the club's first title in 50 years. His success earned him Polish citizenship, thus becoming eligible to play for Poland. Olisadebe made the most of qualifying by scoring eight goals in helping Poland qualify for the 2002 World Cup.

Poland looked likely to reach the Round of 16 in 2002 thanks to a relatively soft group. Instead, Poland suffered an early exit after losses by South Korea and Portugal. Still. Poland had something to play for against the United States: pride, as well as potentially knocking out the United States in the World Cup in Daejeon, South Korea.

Olisadebe, Pawel Kryszalowicz and Marcin Zewlakow were Poland's goal scorers against Norway in a 3-0 victory on Sept. 1, 2001: that was the day Poland became the first European nation to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. These three players helped Poland win its first World Cup game in 16 years.

With nothing to lose, Poland  flew out of the gates and thanks to a close and controversial call were up 2-0 after five minutes: Olisadebe scored in the third minute, while Kryszalowicz scored in the fifth minute, one minute before the United States were disallowed a goal for a foul. Zewlakow made certain of the victory and while it allowed a goal late, Poland left the tournament on a high with a 3-1 victory.

Deja vu unfolded en route to the 2006 World Cup: Poland, despite two losses to England, made light work of its other four opponents. Poland's qualified on Oct. 8, 2005: result elsewhere had Poland assured at least one of the two best runners-up. He and Maciej Zurawski lead Poland in scoring with seven goals;prior to qualifying, Tomasz Frankowski had only scored one goal and that came in 2000.  But Frankowski failed to even make the roster in the World Cup. 

Similar to four years ago, Poland looked to get out of a relatively soft group; Poland still was eliminated after losses by Ecuador and Germany. 

Frankowski was the dark horse in Poland's qualifying campaign; a defender was the surprise star in a group stage game that saw both nations looking to exit the tournament on a high after both nations were eliminated from the tournament; but Poland trailed 1-0 to Costa Rica when they needed to come back. It did so thanks to a last minute replacement before the tournament.

Damina Gorawski was supposed to be on the roster, but due to sever asthma was dropped in favor of defender Bartosz Bosacki. Bosacki made the decision worthwhile when he scored both goals as Poland won 2-1

Poland's brief World Cup history has seen the nation play hard no matter what the stakes were at a World Cup. Poland had its golden generation nearly 40 years ago; only time will tell when Poland's new generation will shine at a World Cup. 

More about this author: Antonio Martinez

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