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Pressure on Poland

BEFORE A ball has been kicked at Euro 2012, someone in Poland has already made a lot of money from Euro 2012.

Those mini-flags that you can stick on a car window appear to be on every second car in Poland and, with a lot of cars in a country of 38million people, all those five zlotys for the flags add up to a nice pile of dosh.

It's good to know that someone in Poland will do well out of the fact that the Euros are taking place here because nobody expects Poland's footballers to do all that much.

As co-hosts they have the honour of kicking the whole thing off tonight when they play Greece in Warsaw (5pm).

The Poles have some things going for them. Home support for one, and a shiny new stadium to play in.

The opening game takes place in the new National Stadium in Warsaw. Previously the site for the crumbling old Stadion Dziesieciolecia (10-year anniversary stadium) which, at its peak, could hold 100,000 loyal communist citizens for events like national team football matches, cycling tournaments and political rallies but, for the past 20 years, has been an open-air market and one of the best places in Europe to buy bootleg DVDs or clothes -- even weapons have been sold here at various stages.

But, apart from that, there's not a lot of faith in Poland that their team can do something, and the only hope is that they can do better than the Greeks -- Greece provide the opposition for the opening game this evening.

History goes against Poland as their record in the European Championships is truly dismal, with Euro 2008 being the first time they ever qualified and they failed to make it out of the group. Poland and Ireland are the only two from the 16 teams at Euro 2012 who have never made it past the group stage.


There's also been an unseemly row behind the scenes over the make-up of the Polish squad.

Due to the fact that Poland had so many barren years at international level, they brought in their own version of the granny rule, expect they capped players who didn't even have a Polish granny. Players who were born and bred in Nigeria (Emmanuel Olisadebe) and Brazil (Roger Guerreiro) ended up playing for Poland as they were with Polish clubs at the time.

Now they have gone looking into family trees again, adding to their squad players who have distant Polish heritage but were born in France (Ludovic Obraniak and Damien Perquis) and Germany (Sebastian Boenisch and Eugen Polanski).

Many Poles are not happy, with former international keeper Jan Tomaszewski -- now an MP with a right-wing party -- describing Perquis as "French garbage" and Tomaszewski says he won't support Poland at the finals because of the recruitment process and the capping of players with a very distant link to the motherland.

Add to that the fact that the best Polish keeper around, former Celtic man (and Holy Goalie) Artur Boruc, is no longer in the squad due to a falling-out with coach Franciszek Smuda, and there is a lack of faith in the side.

For all that, Poland do have some quality in their panel. Striker Robert Lewandowski is one of their top players (13 goals in 40 caps) and also one of the stars in the Bundesliga, and it's quite likely that he will move from Borussia Dortmund to the English Premier League if he can have a good showing at the finals.

Defender Lukasz Piszczek, one of the few survivors from the Euro 2008 squad, is also a handy player and there's also midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski*.

He's a commentator's nightmare but a very impressive winger who can twist defenders as well as tongues.

*I said Yak-oob Bwash-chee-kov-ski.