Poland coach Leo Beenhakker believes his team are ready to rewrite the record books in their first match in the European finals when they face one of the UEFA EURO 2008™ big guns, Germany, in Klagenfurt on Sunday.
The Dutchman is confident ahead of the Group B encounter at Wörthersee Stadion, despite the fact that Poland have never before qualified for the UEFA European Championship, nor beaten their western neighbours in any of their previous 15 meetings. They last faced each other at the 2006 FIFA World Cup – when Beenhakker was coaching Trinidad & Tobago – and the eventual semifinalists Germany got the better of the contest in Dortmund, as substitute Oliver Neuville scored the winner in added time to give the tournament hosts a 1-0 victory.
In an entertaining and colourful pre-match press conference, Beenhakker said: "I know that have never won against Germany, but what we can also say about history is that the two teams have never met each other in this tournament. We know that in 1996 Germany were champions, but since then they have not won any matches at all in the EURO finals. We're talking about history, and I did my homework."
Beenhakker, who lost third-choice goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak and midfielder Jakub Błaszczykowski to injury in the build-up to the finals, said: "We will have our usual preparation, like we did for the qualifying matches. We won't be doing different things just because we are at the EUROs now, and it's not like we will walk around the park naked or something. We have our normal programme – and then we will go [singing] tra-la-la to the stadium. We will play 'tra-la-la' but I don't know if we will be still 'tra-la-la' after the game."
Germany coach Joachim Löw was assistant to Jϋrgen Klinsmann when the teams met at the World Cup, and he has noted Poland's healthy progress during Beenhakker's reign in the intervening period. "Compared to 2006, Poland today have a much stronger team," said Löw of opponents who qualified as Group A winners. "They have improved and they played extraordinarily well during the qualifying round. I was impressed with how strong they are and how adventurous they are. They play a very consistent game. When it comes to their compactness, desire and will to win, I think they are outstanding."
'Dictate the pace'
Löw, who was happy to report that all 23 of his players are fit for the match, said: "We know about the strengths of the Polish team, but I believe that if we can implement what we know and, if we can dictate the pace on the pitch, we will be able to play and do so quite daringly." Löw said he will sleep easily in his "comfortable bed" at the squad's hotel before making his team selection.