Poland Profile

Major Honours Olympic Gold Medal (1)
Year Founded 1921

Poland's men's national soccer team has a long history, having played their first ever official international match roughly a century ago.

In the present era, they have been graced by arguably their greatest ever player, striker Robert Lewandowski. However, Poland were competitive long before the Bayern Munich and former Borussia Dortmund striker's emergence.

Poland were gold medallists at the 1972 Olympic soccer tournament, also picking up silver in 1976 and 1992. In 1974 and 1982, they finished third at the FIFA World Cup, although they have never bettered this.

Early history of the national team

Poland vs Czechoslovakia, 1947

Soccer came to Poland before they gained independence in 1918. After independence, the Polish Soccer Union (Polski Zwiazek Pilki Noznej, PZPN) was founded in December 1919 and they played their first official match two years later, a 1-0 defeat to Hungary.

Having failed to qualify for the first two editions of the tournament, Poland's World Cup debut came in 1938 and they lost 6-5 to Brazil after extra time. This match is famous for Ernest Wilimowski's four goals for the Poles.

Poland's last match before World War II ended in a 4-2 victory over the heavily fancied Hungary, who eventually finished as runners-up in the 1938 World Cup.

The massacre of players during World War II

The German occupation of Poland at the beginning of the Second World War was followed by the banning of organised soccer and the PZPN was dissolved, as was the Poland national team.

Tragically, nine Poland internationals were killed by the German occupying forces, including three in the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp as well as four Jewish players.

On June 11, 1946, Poland returned to international soccer in a friendly against Norway, which they lost 3-1 in Oslo.

On April 26, 1948, Poland suffered their worst ever defeat - an 8-0 loss to Denmark - but a revival would soon be on the cards for Polish soccer.

Golden years

Wlodzimierz Lubanski scored on his debut for Poland in a 9-0 win over Norway in 1963. This, it could be argued, marked the beginning of a new era for Poland - one of unprecedented success.

Wlodzimierz Lubanksi, Poland

Lubanski would go on to score 48 times for the Polish national team - a record beaten only by Robert Lewandowski.

Kazimierz Gorski was announced as head coach of the national team on December 1, 1970, and led Poland to the gold medal at the 1972 Olympics.

At the 1974 World Cup, for which his side qualified after surprisingly eliminating England, Poland beat Argentina 3-2, Haiti 7-0 and Italy 2-1 in their group matches.

They then followed that up with a 1-0 win over Sweden and a 2-1 triumph over Yugoslavia before Germany knocked them out thanks to Gerd Muller's winning goal. Nevertheless, Poland beat Brazil 1-0 to claim third place.

After claiming silver at the 1976 Olympics, Lubanski's reign came to an end and Poland were eliminated in the second round of the 1978 World Cup.

In 1982 in Spain, Poland made the semi-finals of the World Cup once again, where they were beaten 2-0 by Italy. They beat France 3-2 in the third-place play-off in a last dance of sorts for their golden generation.

Downfall and recent resurgence

Poland soccer squad, 1999

In 1986, Poland only just made the round of 16 of the World Cup, where they were knocked out by Brazil in a crushing 4-0 defeat.

The next time they qualified for a major tournament was the 2002 World Cup, where Poland were eliminated at the group stage. They were knocked out in the same round of the 2006 edition in Germany, as well as Euro 2008 and Euro 2012. The 2012 disappointment was a particularly bitter pill to swallow given that Poland were joint hosts alongside Ukraine.

Poland did not qualify for the 2010 or 2014 World Cup tournaments. They did make the 2018 tournament in Russia, but were eliminated in the group stage.

Poland did, however, manage to qualify for Euro 2016 and fared better at the tournament in France than any other recent major competition.

In the group stage, a 0-0 draw with Germany was sandwiched in between victories over Northern Ireland and Ukraine - both with the same 1-0 scoreline. Poland thus qualified comfortably for the knockout stages.

In the round of 16, Poland eliminated Switzerland on penalties following a 1-1 draw. However, they were knocked out by eventual champions Portugal on penalties themselves after a 1-1 draw in Marseille.

Partly as a result, in August 2017, Poland rose to fifth in the FIFA World Rankings - the highest they have ever been.

Poland followed that up by qualifying for Euro 2020, but the competition was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was played in 2021 and they were drawn in Group E with Spain, Slovakia and Sweden.

Poland disappointed, picking up just a single point to finish bottom of the group. This was in an impressive 1-1 draw against Spain in Seville, with Lewandowski scoring one of his three Euro 2020 goals in that game. They also lost 2-1 to Slovakia and 3-2 to Sweden.

Poland's legends

Wlodzimierz Lubanski scored 48 times in 75 appearances for the national team - a total which Robert Lewandowski has since surpassed.

Lewandowski has not only netted over 60 times for Poland, but he also won the 2020 Best FIFA Men's Player Award in recognition of his contribution to an astonishing treble-winning season for Bayern Munich. This means that he will surely go into the history books as a Poland national team legend when he hangs up his boots. 

Another modern icon is Jakub Blaszczykowski, who witnessed his father stab his mother to death as a child, but rose above this tragedy to enjoy a tremendous career, playing a key role for Borussia Dortmund as well as the Poland national team.

Wojciech Szczesny, the Poland national team goalkeeper, is widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers of his generation.

Wojciech Szczesny, Poland

Kazimierz Gorski remains the most iconic coach in Poland's soccer history and also won a solitary cap for the national team as a player in 1948.

Poland's biggest rivals

Poland unsurprisingly have a longstanding rivalry with Germany, with the political history between the two nations playing a role.

Polish national newspaper Super Express riled Germans up ahead of their European Championship encounter in 2008 by controversially depicting Poland coach Leo Beenhakker holding the severed heads of Michael Ballack and Joachim Low, then the Germany national team's captain and coach respectively.

Fanbase

Poland's national team has a passionate fanbase, which has inspired soccer fans across the world.

However, there is an uglier side to this, as hooliganism and organised crime are part of the scene in Poland. Their fans were involved in violent clashes with Russian supporters ahead of their Euro 2012 encounter.

Poland News