Poland, Austria know defeat will mean the end

VIENNA: Poland goalkeeper Artur Boruc just became a first-time father, and his team-mates have the perfect gift idea: a win against Austria today at the European Championship.

The Celtic goalkeeper’s wife, Kasia, gave birth to a healthy baby boy yesterday morning in Warsaw.

“We’re all very happy for him,” defender Jacek Bak said ahead of the team’s training session. “It would be great if we could win the match because it would be a great present for him.”

After dropping their opener against Germany, the Poles also need a win against Austria if they want to keep alive hopes of advancing to the quarter-finals. Austria finds themselves in the same uncomfortable situation coming off their 1-0 loss to Croatia.

“It’s all or nothing. We need a victory,” Austria coach Josef Hickersberger said.

The match’s high stakes have led Poland coach Leo Beenhakker to warn that the clash at Ernst Happel Stadium will be “a physical battle,” and defender Michal Zewlakow dubbed it “a war.”

Unfortunately for Poland, injuries have left Beenhakker without some of his best weapons. Captain Maciej Zurawski has been ruled out of at least the first round games after straining his right quadriceps in Poland’s 2-0 opening loss to Germany.

The striker’s injury further depletes a Poland attack already suffering from the absence of speedy midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski, who quit the team’s camp and returned to Poland last week after aggravating a hamstring injury.

Defensive midfielder Mariusz Lewandowski is also questionable with a bruised left ankle, although he trained with the team yesterday.

Zurawski, meanwhile, has stayed on with the squad in Austria, but his absence could turn out to be a blessing.

The forward hasn’t been in top form, and Brazilian-born Roger Guerreiro, who replaced Zurawski at half-time against Germany, provided a much-needed spark up front with his vision, dribbling skills and nifty passing.

Beenhakker has refused to say whether Roger, who received Polish citizenship in April, will start against Austria, but he hasn’t been short on praise for the 25-year-old playmaker.

“He’s great. He’s amazing. He’s fantastic,” Beenhakker said. “He sees solutions and makes choices on the field that are, well, it’s Brazilian. I can’t explain it in any other way.”

If Roger does get the start, that would leave Ebi Smolarek, who led Poland with nine goals in qualifying, alone up top with Roger directing the attack from the midfield.

Despite their 2-0 loss to Germany, the Poles have taken encouragement from their play in the opener, and like their chances against a team lacking the star power of the tournament favourites.

“I think that if we play like we did at times against Germany, Austria won’t have any say,” midfielder Dariusz Dudka said.

But the Austrians also proved their mettle in their opening 1-0 loss to Croatia. For most of the second-half, the tournament co-hosts outplayed a Croatian side considered title contenders.

“We are still optimistic. I see no team-mates who is down and out,” defender Martin Stranzl said. “We need three points against Poland now and everyone is fully aware of that.”

Austria coach Josef Hickersberger said his team “couldn’t live with one point,” and the tournament co-hosts may adopt a more attacking style against Poland in an attempt to secure a precious three points.

Hickersberger is likely to switch from a defensive 3-5-2 into a 4-4-2 system, giving a start to midfielder Umit Korkmaz and striker Roman Kienast.

Midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz thinks Austria should be more active in the attack, but also stressed that his team can’t afford to fall behind early like they did against Croatia.

“We are at our best when we play offensively,” the Austria captain said. “But we have to take care of the right balance. We must avoid at any cost that Poland take the lead. No team who have dropped behind have won so far at the tournament.”

Like Beenhakker, injuries may also force Hickersberger to juggle players up front. The team’s most experienced striker, Roland Linz, has not fully recovered from tearing ligaments in his left ankle against Croatia.

If Linz can’t play, Roman Kienast is likely to replace him. – AP

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