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The Rediff Special/Patrick Graham
Poles believe they can beat Germany this time
April 21, 2006
Three decades after defeat by West Germany in an epic World Cup semi-final on a soggy Frankfurt pitch, Poland believe they have their best chance to beat the one heavyweight side they have never overcome.
In a golden era that yielded two World Cup third places, the Poles beat Johann Cruyff's Netherlands, Michel Platini's France, Alf Ramsay's England and Brazil.
They have never beaten Germany, however, and would love to change history at June's finals.
"The Germans may be favourites for the group but we believe this time we have a chance," centre back Tomasz Klos, 33, told Reuters.
"We can see they have a new, young and inexperienced team. They are very strong all over the pitch and, like Germans do, they'll fight from the first minute to the last. But we have a different team to four years ago. We are hungry for success."
Led by Legia Warsaw hero Kazimierz Deyna, the Poles were the sensation of the 1974 finals, beating Argentina and Italy only to be denied a place in the final by Franz Beckenbauer's West Germany on a farcically waterlogged pitch.
Many say the match should have been postponed and that Austrian referee Erich Linemayr's decision to play gave the slower Germans more chance than they would have had on a dry surface.
In the most famous image of the game -- still often shown on Polish television -- Deyna's goal-bound strike was halted by a puddle in the penalty area.
Yet few Poles hold a grudge, preferring to remember a tournament that opened a golden era for their domestic game.
"It's true that it was closer to waterpolo than football but the Germans played on the same pitch as we did," said goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski, famed for the heroics months earlier against England that put the Poles into the finals.
"I don't bear any grudges. In the middle of communism, that World Cup made Poles believe we were equals to the best in the world. Before, kids would call themselves Pele, Cruyff or Moore. After it, they were Deyna, Lato or Szarmach."
Poland's post-war generation grew up deeply suspicious of their western neighbours, whose World War Two occupation left one-fifth of its 30 million population dead, millions more homeless or exiled and the capital Warsaw razed to the ground.
The animosity faded in recent years, however, as thousands went to Germany to work or study and Berlin backed Poland's European Union (EU) membership ambitions.
"All our studies show Poles are more and more positive about Germans," said Stephan Raabe, head of the Warsaw branch of Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a research body which encourages international understanding.
"Now that we are together in the EU, more Poles are meeting actual Germans and the barriers are coming down."
Long before Poland's EU entry in 2004, Germany was the main destination for its top footballing talent and several of the current squad play for Bundesliga or Austrian sides.
Jacek Krzynowek drew praise on the wing for Bayer Leverkusen until a leg injury last year, while Borussia Dortmund's Euzebiusz Smolarek is among the Bundesliga's top scorers this season with 13 goals.
"Polish players are a known quantity in Germany," said Klos, who spent four years in the Bundesliga. "We have been going there for years and they know what we can do. So it is easy for us to fit in.
"For us the conditions in Germany are fantastic. I felt good there."
After winning eight out of 10 games to qualify behind England in European Group Six, coach Pawel Janas's side are desperate to make amends for an embarrassing first-round exit in South Korea four years ago.
Then, coach Jerzy Engel tried to pump up his players for the group games with World War Two film of the Luftwaffe bombing Poland but his team were humiliated 4-0 by Portugal and 2-0 by South Korea before a consolation 3-1 win over the United States.
The current squad have looked good in recent friendlies and were pleased to be drawn with the Germans, Costa Rica and Ecuador, whom they beat 3-0 in a friendly late last year.
They were also encouraged by Germany's 4-1 demolition by Italy and criticism of Jurgen Klinsmann's team and tactics.
Janas, who was a central defender on the team that finished third in the 1982 tournament, said playing Germany would be special but advancing further was more important.
"The games against Costa Rica and Ecuador have to be just as important," Janas said in a recent newspaper interview. "Progressing beyond the first stage is our minimum scenario. We definitely can't afford to concentrate exclusively on the Germans."More Specials