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‘In football everything is possible’: Robert Lewandowski on Poland’s aim to defy the odds at Euro 2024

By Aleks Klosok, Amanda Davies and Martin Bourke, CNN

Sardinia, Italy (CNN) — Uruguay at the 1950 World Cup. Cameroon at the 1990 World Cup. Greece at Euro 2004.

Just some of the shocks that have shaken the game to the core, written unheralded names into soccer folklore and generated stories that have been, and will continue to be, spoken about for generations to come.

Could Poland produce an equally seismic surprise at Euro 2024?

Even the most optimistic Poland fan, and for that matter soccer fan, would think this to be a pipe dream far beyond one’s wildest imagination.

Poland captain Robert Lewandowski, though, thinks otherwise.

“In football, you never know. You have to believe and we have the hope,” the country’s iconic forward told CNN’s Sport’s Amanda Davies at the recent inaugural Globe Soccer Awards Europe Edition in Sardinia, Italy.

“If we’re playing as a team … really, we can achieve something. I don’t know, what does it mean in the end but in football everything is possible.”

Seizing the moment

For Poland, just to be at this summer’s tournament can, to some extent, already be classified as an achievement.

Lewandowski’s side endured one of its worst qualifying campaigns in recent memory.

Dispensing with head coach Fernando Santos and bringing in Michał Probierz – Poland’s fifth coach in three years – at the midway point following humiliating losses to Moldova and Albania, winning just three of eight qualifying games and ultimately failing to progress directly from a group in which it finished third.

Poland was the last team to book its ticket to the finals after edging past Wales on penalties in the playoffs. Expectations, therefore, for Germany are low.

And yet the ‘free hit’ mentality may well be just what the country needs to spring a surprise.

With the backing of a large, vocal contingent of supporters who’ll make the journey across the border, the prolific No. 9 said his team must be primed to seize its opportunity.

“Always in the big tournaments some kind of teams can get troubles and you have to be ready to use the time you have [and] the opportunity to win the game and to get the points,” he explained.

“We are playing in Germany, the country is very close to Poland. So probably a lot of fans from Poland are coming to this tournament so we are very happy, and we try to enjoy every day to be there.”

Surprise Act

How long that optimism will last remains to be seen.

Poland has been drawn into arguably one of the toughest groups of the tournament, alongside two-time European champion France, the Netherlands and Austria – all ranked above them.

Arguably, Poland’s most realistic chance of making it through to the knockout rounds may well lie in trying to qualify as one of the best ranked third-placed teams.

To add to the difficulty, Lewandowski will miss Poland’s opening game of the tournament against the Netherlands on June 16 after suffering a muscle tear in his thigh picked up in the recent friendly win against Turkey. The country’s FA say it will be doing everything possible to get him fit for the team’s second game against Austria on June 21.

But defying the odds is something the country has previous experience of in this tournament having reached the quarterfinals in 2016.

Only a penalty shootout defeat to eventual champion Portugal put pay to that Cinderella story.

Lewandowski, though, is under no illusions of the task that awaits but said playing on the underdog status and leaning on past experiences could go a long way to determining Poland’s fate in the competition.

“Even though we have a very tough group, we are ready,” said the upbeat forward.

“I think we are playing good football [and] we know that we are not the favourites in the group stage.

“But this is football – Sometimes one day, one game, 90 minutes… With the luck you can win something […] I am very positive in this month.”

Familiar territory

The tournament will also have added significance for the 35-year-old.

It was in Germany where Lewandowski rose to global prominence, spending 12 years playing for two of the powerhouse clubs in the country: Borussia Dortmund and then Bayern Munich.

At Dortmund, he collected Bundesliga titles. At Bayern, he was integral to its 2020 Champions League victory which formed part of a historic treble for the club.

Named Bundesliga Player of the Season a record five times, he left Germany in 2022 as the league’s second highest goalscorer of all time, only behind Gerd Müller’s record of 365 goals.

He’ll return to Berlin – the scene of many a German domestic cup triumph – in Poland’s second group game against Austria and then Dortmund for the team’s group finale against Kylian Mbappé’s France.

“I know the people, I know the culture, I know almost everything, so I think that I am going to feel really, really well,” he said, smiling.

“And very exciting as well to be playing again in these big stadiums, not only in Dortmund that I spent four years, but also [in] Berlin.

“The atmosphere [in Berlin] I can say [is] similar [to] the Champions League final because the stadium and everything around is really beautiful.”

Could Germany also serve as the perfect swansong for his international career?

This will be the sixth major tournament for Poland’s all-time top scorer, but he insisted that retirement wasn’t on his mind.

“[On retirement] I cannot say yes or no. It depends on many different things, many different options,” he explained.

“Physically, I’m feeling very well. I don’t see the difference, especially in this year than before.

“If I feel something inside in my head, saying to me ‘Okay, maybe it’s time to say goodbye’ then I know that the time is coming. But until now, I didn’t feel this kind of feeling so it’s still not this kind of way that I’m thinking about this.”

Ukrainian Pride

While Poland will be at the forefront of Lewandowski’s mind, he’ll also be keeping a close eye on Ukraine’s progress at the tournament.

The Pole has been a staunch ally of the embattled country and a long-time advocate for refugees since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on Ukraine in February 2022.

Days after the invasion he lobbied for the postponement of Poland’s international fixture against Russia and at the Qatar World Cup he wore the country’s armband, which was presented to him ahead of the tournament by former captain and coach, Andriy Shevchenko.

Despite narrowly missing out on a place in Qatar, Sergiy Rebrov’s side sealed its place at the Euros with a dramatic come-from-behind victory against Iceland in a playoff final in March.

Poland currently acts as home to nearly one million Ukrainians who have fled since February 2022, according to UN data.

Ukraine begins its group stage campaign against Romania on June 17, before facing Slovakia and then Belgium.

Lewandowski was confident that the team’s appearance in Germany could give the country reason to be optimistic.

“They were fighting [a] similar situation before the World Cup and they were so close and now they did it,” he said.

“In the difficult situation, if you’ve got some kind of positive things like football that everyone around the world [is] speaking, thinking about the football, and if they see now this team on this kind of tournament, they can be proud.

“Probably, for sure, the people of Ukraine now cannot wait [for] the first game.”

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