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Underestimate Poland at your peril: Why the co-hosts could be Euro 2012’s dark horses

By Ryan Hubbard | Poland Expert

With the countdown to Euro 2012 nearly reaching its climax, the stage is set for Franciszek Smuda's White Eagles to make a huge splash on their home turf over the coming weeks. Since they were handed a relatively “easier” draw in December, confidence has grown among the majority of Poles; with some even believing that a semi-final berth isn't out of the question.

Poland's biggest hopes clearly rest on the Borussia Dortmund trio of Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub Baszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski. With all three of them playing important roles in the side's double-winning season, they will enter the tournament carrying the hopes of the nation on their shoulders. But with the eyes of the world trained largely on their German-based stars, Poland will also have a number of players bubbling under the surface – all capable of shining this summer.

Expected to sit on the left-side of Poland's attacking midfield is Terek Grozny's young Maciej Rybus. Although relatively new to the national set-up, Rybus' performances for Legia Warsaw proved enough for the Russian side to swoop in winter with a multi-million Euro deal. Since arriving in Chechnya, the 22-year-old has quickly propelled himself to becoming a fan-favourite with his skillful performances.

Alongside Rybus, French-born Ludovic Obraniak has been in sterling form since his winter move from Lille to Bordeaux. Despite impressing early on for his adopted national side, even scoring a brace on his debut against Friday's opponents Greece, playing time at Lille became increasingly limited. But since his transfer to the South-West of France, more playing time has swung his way, helping Ludo's form to improve massively. Although largely unknown across Europe, he is likely to be a key part of Poland's attack.

Szczesny Blaszczykowski Lewandowski

Arsenal's young keeper Wojciech Szczęsny is another player who comes into the Euros on the back of a good season at club level. Impressive performances in the Premier League have seen Wojciech emerge as one of Europe's top keepers, and his stand-out display in Poland's friendly against Germany back in September earned praise from Bayern Munich legend Oliver Kahn.

Partly thanks to Szczęsny and the steadily-gelling defence, the Poles are now unbeaten in the last six games and haven't conceded since their meeting with Hungary back in November. With a complete shut-out so far in the calendar year, the White Eagles have the best recent defensive record of any of their fellow qualifiers; whilst only two losses in the last fifteen games have provided the confidence for the team to go into the tournament without fear.

Playing on their home turf, Poland will also be hoping that the history of host nations in the tournament will continue. Of the fifteen previous host countries, only three have failed to make it to the last-four of the competition; and Poland will be hoping that their vociferous support can help to propel them to the latter stages.

With the competition being held east of the former Iron Curtain for the first time, Euro 2012 is a huge opportunity for Poland to showcase not only their beautiful country, but also their improving football team. Whilst many will look at the FIFA rankings and see the joint-hosts occupying a lowly 65th position, the trained eye will see a young team that is both talented and eager to impress.

Drawn into a low-key group, the underdogs will feel that a top-two finish is well within reach; and by quietly sitting below the radar, they will be in a perfect position to cause a surprise or two. After all it is their party, and they'll be damned if anyone is going to spoil it!

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