Poland National Team: Ups and downs in 2022

Adriana Achcinska of Poland dribbles between Norway players.
Adriana Achcinska of Poland dribbles between Norway players during a 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup qualification match on April 12, 2022. (Photo by ANNIKA BYRDE/NTB/AFP via Getty Images)

The Poland national team started 2022 in a major slump. But the end of the year seems to be more positive.

Poland came into 2022 with just a theoretical chance to go to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. After a huge 0–4 loss in Leuven late in November 2021, our only chance was to win in Oslo.

Before the crucial game, the Poland team played in the Pinatar Cup. A tournament where teams on a similar level met. And Poland lost against all three of their rivals. First, there was a 1–2 defeat against Ireland. Then another 1–2 result with Hungary (the goal of Vágó in the additional time, while everyone was preparing for the penalty shoot-out hurt a lot). And, finally a 0–2 loss against Slovakia.

Even if the Pinatar Cup was a friendly tournament. And even though the games of the teams from more a less the same place in the FIFA/UEFA ranking any result can happen. It was very harsh to be optimistic after the tournament. The style of play was bad, all the autumn games flashed back – the goals lost against Belgium at home, the 0–4 game in Leuven. And, also very modest victories against much weaker teams of Armenia, Albania, and Kosovo.

Poland’s game vs Armenia

Before the home game against Armenia, which opened the April session of FIFA WWC Qualifiers for us, it looked like the optimism of the head coach Nina Patalon was “grin and bear it”. All in all – the Pinatar Cup was just a friendly tournament. But it was hard to find any positive sides of that appearance (maybe Anna Zapała showed up herself as a right-back ready to play on the national team level). Even noticing that the leader of the team Ewa Pajor was missing for almost all the games due to an ACL injury. Only 6 goals scored in 6 games of the Qualifiers didn’t look well in any context. Despite that, the game against Armenia was to be just a warm-up against Norway. The 12-0 victory, the 6 debut goals of Nikola Karczewska and the come back of the captain (she was given the band from Paulina Dudek as she entered the pitch) made us happy. But we knew it will be much harder at Ullevaal.

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And indeed, it was – 0-2 after just 16 minutes is, however, forgotten after the final time. The second half gave an early score of Karczewska, and the team could hope for more with Pajor showing her bestest skills just being back on the pitch, but also as the Norwegian goalie Cecilia Fiskerstrand was not punished for the foul outside the penalty box on her – the refereeing experts were unanimously sure: Ivana Projkovska should have sent her off, but it ended with not even a free kick. A power-play could have changed a lot in that game, where also Ada Hegerberg was back to the national team – perfectly neutralised by the Polish defence.

Poland: from lows to highs

The 1-2 defeat meant an almost sure farewell with the World Cup debut in Australia/New Zealand (no one believed Belgium could have lost points against Armenia in September). Yet the style showed by the team at Ullevaal gave the reasons to believe in building the team towards the next challenges. The hopes went down again in the pre-EURO friendly game against Iceland. Ending with 1-3 loss and once again presenting much worse style, repeating all the mistakes from earlier games in bringing the ball forward from the defence line as well as wasting far too many chances to score. The away game against Albania in September showed this once again – even though Poland dominated on the pitch, they scored only twice after conceding a goal in just the 11th minute and nearly losing another in the last minutes of the, being pressured just ahead of own penalty box. The home game against Kosovo didn’t bring that much of problems – mostly because the opponent didn’t force them. Ending the FIFA WWC Qualifiers with 7-0 victory was a good sign for the future.

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Friendly games

The friendly games remained for now. October was the first chance to meet teams from outside Europe – Morocco and Argentina. Both games showed a progress in terms of keeping cool on the pitch. Morocco caused some danger near the goal, but scored none. While Poland used their chances to score four, especially seeing the rivals mentally down after the second goal. Argentina started very strong with 2-0 at half-time, but again the consistency gave the draw of 2-2. The final game of the year was the summary of all what was the best in the Polish team of 2022. Most of the chances were used to score, the team took a chance to learn how to deal with the pressing of the opponent. And the progress on that element, which caused so many problems and so many goals conceded in the last year (including the autumn 2021) was also visible.

And all that with many key players missing. Ewa Pajor is back on the pitch after long battle with ACL injuries. But when you look at her play against Romania, she gave the field to show up to her teammates as none of the six goals was scored by her. Paulina Dudek, the vice-captain, is now struggling with the ACL injury. Dominika Grabowska tore her hamstring during the game against Morocco – she should be back soon. Adriana Achcińska is already back to the FC Köln match roster. She may be back to the national team soon as well. Gabriela Grzywińska is playing for Zenit Sankt Petersburg. After the FIFA WWC Qualifiers, the decision of the head coach is clear: no call-up until she remains in the aggressor of Ukraine.

Poland and her aces

The three latest names were forming the middle of the field in the earlier months, but the substitutes – including Tanja Pawollek, captain of Eintracht and a former Germany U21 player – made a good job in the latest games. Natalia Wróbel is developing more and more, being the key player of Brøndby IF. the main contender to beat the championship streak of HB Køge. Klaudia Lefeld presents the peak form in the Polish League, leading the team of Górnik Łęczna. With the strong wings of Weronika Zawistowska and Natalia Padilla-Bidas. They both are universal and both changing their sides during a game a few times. And, with Grabowska or Kamczyk able to do the same (Kamczyk not recently called-up to the national team, reportedly due to the conflict with the coach), the team may look bravely to the future.

The future features the newly created UEFA Nations League. The main goal of the head coach’s term on a bench, EURO 2025, for which Poland is bidding. The decision in January may be crucial for the next few years of building up the team before the tournament.

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