Jakob Blaszczykowski comes out of shadows to inspire Poland

Winger has regained form that made him such a key man for Klopp’s Dortmund

Poland’s Jakub Blaszczykowski celebrates opening the scoring against Switzerland in the last 16 of the competition.Photograph: Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images

Poland’s Jakub Blaszczykowski celebrates opening the scoring against Switzerland in the last 16 of the competition.Photograph: Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images

 

As Poland wait in hope for Robert Lewandowski to find the sort of form he was expected to show at these European Championships, the nation has been embracing the sudden re-emergence of another national hero, Jakub Blaszczykowski, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder whose career appeared to have come badly off the rails over the past couple of seasons.

Both men starred for Dortmund a few years back when the club was winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles but over the past couple of seasons, as the striker’s career has continued to soar, the 30-year-old winger has been afflicted by both serious injury and loss of form

But all of that seemed like a distant memory as he played such a central role in getting Poland to the knockout stages of this competition for the first time.

While Lewandowski has found himself wandering far from the opposition area in the hope of eluding markers and finding the ball, Blaszczykowski has scored two of his side’s three goals, laid on the third and converted a penalty in the shootout that eliminated Switzerland. Along with Grzegorz Krychowiak of Seville, Blaszczykowski has been stealing the show a little and there could be no more popular thief back home.

Terrible trauma

Poland supporters have always been well disposed to a player who endured the terrible trauma aged 10 of his father stabbing his mother to death, a crime he is said to have witnessed. He briefly gave the game up in the aftermath of the terrible event, before his uncle, Jerzy Brzeczek, himself a former captain of the national team, encouraged him to return and later helped get him his first big break, an €18,000 move from local outfit KS Czestochowa to Wisla Krakow when he was approaching the end of his teens.

His father, Sigmund, was sentenced to 15 years and while there was no contact during or after his time in prison, Blaszczykowski’s preparations for Euro 2012 were disrupted when his father died unexpectedly and he had to leave the training camp in order to attend the funeral.

A couple of weeks later, his dramatic long-range equaliser against Russia in the group stage game in Warsaw copper-fastened his status as a favourite of the nation and he seemed destined for even greater things. Instead, a serious injury in January 2014 stalled his progress.

At Dortmund, after the long lay-off, he struggled to rediscover his form and was loaned to Fiorentina for the season just finished. He did poorly and the Italian club declined to take up the €6 million option they had to make the deal permanent, leaving his future in doubt.

On the international front, Lewandowski took over the captaincy during his absence and there were reports that an already cool relationship grew colder when he made clear to manager Adam Nawalka that he did not want to let it go.

The issue blew up around the time of Poland’s trip to Dublin for the March 2015 qualifier. Blaszczykowski missed that game, ostensibly because of injury, but not many of the nation’s media believed that.

Recent history

The team has some recent history with Portugal. “When we beat them 10 years ago we were euphoric,” he says. “They were a very good team at that time, with amazing players and that was our first step towards qualifying for the Euros for the first time.

“That game,” a 2-1 win in Chorzow in October 2006 in which Blaszczykowski played all 90 minutes, “was the breakthrough, a decisive moment. It made us believe in ourselves and, as we know, we got through a strong group as winners. It was a turning point.”

They were poor in the finals, though, as they have also been in their three other recent major tournaments, and it is only really with the start of this qualifying campaign and the historic defeat of Germany that they have appeared to move to a new level as a group.

Victory in Marseille would get them into the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time since the great sides of the ’70s and early ’80s reached the last four of two World Cups.

Poland’s defensive record – just one goal conceded against Switzerland – suggests they are in good shape to handle the challenge that Ronaldo and his team-mates present and the coolness they displayed in dispatching all five penalties against Switzerland points to a strong mentality.

Portugal have been rather more erratic and Ricardo Quaresma and Renato Sanches may well start after both doing well after coming on in the surprise second-round extra-time success over Croatia.

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