THE relaxed ambiance apparent yesterday in the lobby of the Marker Hotel, where Poland's players and fans mixed freely, continued into the team's pre-match press conference. Within 30 seconds, manager of the Euro 2016 Group D leaders, Adam Nawalka, not only announced the axing of Wojciech Szczesny but another surprise call followed with the news of Lukasz Fabianski edging out Artur Boruc as the goalkeeper of choice tonight.
Nawalka has shipped plenty of criticism in his homeland, despite guiding Poland to new heights with victory over world champions Germany in October, yet his willingness to make the big calls is indisputable.
Already, his decision to omit Borussia Dortmund's Jakub Blaszczykowski caused a ripple of consternation amongst the Polish faithful. Man of the match against Germany, Szczesny will also be a frustrated bystander tonight for a game in which victory is the priority for Nawalka.
"Fabianski has impressed all week in training," Nawalka said. "I have spoken about the decision with all the players and they have respected it. I am confident about Fabianski."
Three points clear at the summit, and aware that victory would not alone shuttle them further towards an automatic ticket to France next year but mothball Ireland's prospects, Nawalka sounded every bit like a man intent on eliminating one of Poland's rivals by the midway point of the campaign.
"Psychologically, tactically and physically, we expect to deliver and increase our lead at the top of the group," he beamed. "We're ready for any formation, but we do expect them to play 4-4-2. It is the formation that has produced good results for them in the past. The long-ball system has worked out well for them so far but we expect more fluidity too. It will be a difficult game but once we produce our fast attacking football, and high-intensity game, it will maximise our chances of getting a good result."
Upon their arrival at Dublin Airport yesterday morning, the squad gained an insight into the level of support they'll receive at the Dublin 4 venue tonight. Up to 15,000 Polish fans are expected inside the stadium, mostly drawn from the sizeable expatriate community, to create what promises to be a raucous atmosphere.
"We were overwhelmed by the reception from hundreds of fans at the airport," explained Grzegorz Krychowiak, the Sevilla midfield playmaker. "When we played a friendly in Dublin two years ago, there were thousands of Polish supporters in the stands, so I think they'll make even more noise for this qualifier. It will definitely help motivate players to believe in their own abilities but the matter will be decided on the pitch."
Poland (probable): Fabianski (Swansea City); Olkowski (FC Cologne), Glik (Torino), Szukala (Al-Ittihad), Wawrzyniak (L Gdansk); Krychowiak (Sevilla), Jodlowiec (Legia Warsaw); Peszko (FC Cologne), Milik (Ajax), Rybus (Terek Grozny); Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Sunday Indo Sport