herald

Monday 23 October 2017

Polish legend Boniek says they have edge over Irish

Zbigniew Boniek
Zbigniew Boniek

HE IS the man for whom Liam Brady had to make way in Giovanni Trapattoni's brilliant Juventus side of the 1980s, and he captained his country to a third-place finish at the World Cup finals.

He even earned himself a minor place on the Irish rock music scene with a line in a Sultans of Ping classic ("You say Dostoyevsky was the greatest of them all, in my opinion Boniek had better ball control").

So Zbigniew Boniek knows a thing or two about quality football and elite players, and the Poland legend - now head of the Polish FA (called the PZPN) feels that the away side in Sunday's game simply have that extra slice of quality needed to swing the game their way.

"Ireland are a well-organised team and the have a real heart," he says.

"Their players play in the English league so they are technically well-prepared, and we have to match them in terms of ambition and the will to win.

"But my optimism is based on the fact that we have two or three players who can make the difference on the field.

"That's just a theory for now and we'll see in Dublin on Sunday if that becomes fact. Sometimes you can play badly and still achieve your goals, or not. But the hope is that we can play well and move closer to our goals," added Boniek.

When he speaks about the 2/3 players who can make a difference, Boniek is not only talking about Robert Lewandowski but also the classy defender Kamil Glik a man who, like Boniek, left his native Poland to find success in Italy (in Glik's case with Torino). Boniek emerged in Poland but blossomed in Italy and won the European Cup, Cup Winners Cup, Italian league and Cup with Juve, having effectively booted Brady out of the Juve side due to restrictions on foreign players in Italy.

He's also buoyant about the goalkeeping position as coach Adam Nawalka has the luxury of being able to drop his established No. 1 (Wojciech Szczesny) for either of the two rivals who ae in food form with their UK clubs, Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea) and Artur Boruc (Bournemouth).

"Recently, Fabianski and Boruc were in the squad to support Szczesny, whose position at his club and in the national team were untouchable," says Boniek, aware that Szczesny has been dropped by Arsenal.

"Now that has changed and the coach has the right to react. We will have good competition for the game in Dublin, but don't be surprised if the coach sticks with Szczesny."

Boniek seems to be in high spirits ahead of the game, and his own experiences of Ireland have been happy ones: as a player he came up against Ireland four times (1976-84) and in that time Poland never lost or conceded a goal to the Irish He also ended his time in international football around these parts as he won his last cap in a friendly in Belfast in 1988. That was his 'pozegnanie' as they say in Polish, or goodbye.

But in Warsaw this week, the firm hope is that it's Ireland who will be saying goodbye to Euro 2016 by Sunday night.

"This game will say a lot about the future of the national team," he says. "The autumn games saw us take a step forward, so it would be a pity now to lose and take a step backwards, drop points.

"This game is a good test of whether the team are going in the right direction, but we are confident and the Polish players have shown in the group that they can compete with the best.

"And hopefully we will come home from Dublin a step closer to Euro 2016."

afitzmaurice@herald.ie

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