Euro 2012: Nowak says Poland to surprise on, off the field

Nowak, Euro 2012

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

BOYDS, Md. – Peter Nowak doesn’t know who will win Euro 2012.

But the Philadelphia Union’s Polish-born manager can predict at least one thing when the highly competitive tournament kicks off Friday in his native country.

“I think we’re going to see the whole country stop with the first whistle,” Nowak told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s crazy right now.”

Nowak said he briefly considered going to the opening match of the tournament between host country Poland and Greece (Friday, noon ET, ESPN) at Warsaw’s National Stadium but decided against it, citing the need to stay with his team while the Union attempt to turn their season around.

Instead, he’ll watch the game on TV with the expectation that he’ll see Poland perform well, even if they are FIFA’s lowest-ranked team in the tournament. That’s because Nowak is encouraged by the team’s recent run of play – a stretch that includes three consecutive shutout victories.

“I think with a lot of fans in the past couple of years, there has been a lot of skepticism about this team,” said Nowak, who played for Poland from 1990-98 but failed to qualify for any major tournaments. “But I think the coach [Franciszek Smuda] found a good recipe right now. The starting XI has established themselves, they’ve played a lot of games together and they understand each other very well.”

Nowak said Poland will be fueled by its four main attractions – Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and the Borussia Dortmund trio of defender Lukasz Piszczek, midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski and striker Robert Lewandowski. The Union manager also mentioned 19-year-old midfielder Rafal Wolski as a player who has the potential to turn some heads and help the co-hosts advance out of Group A.

“I think he could be a surprise in this tournament,” Nowak said. “He’s a very young kid, but he’s very creative and fast.”

And if nothing else, Nowak is confident that Poland will put on a good show in what marks its first time hosting the European Championship.

Over the past four years, he’s seen the country’s infrastructure, stadiums and training facilities significantly improve. Now there’s only one thing left to do: get the party started.

“I’m sure there are going to be some hiccups,” Nowak said. “But knowing the mentality of everyone, it’s going to be a pretty good celebration. I think the Polish people are known to be good hosts, and I think everybody will enjoy the tournament.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.