St Petersburg: Poland accept they are favourites to win their Euro 2020 Group E opener against Slovakia today but must improve their poor record in tournament opening games, coach Paulo Sousa said.
The Poles have failed five out of six times to win their first match at the World Cup or the Euros this century.
“If we have the same mentality tomorrow as our opponent, the quality players we have can make us go home with three points,” Sousa told reporters.
Sousa is a former Portugal international who took over as Poland coach in January.
“The process of team building is ongoing,” Sousa said. “For me it is a double responsibility to represent Poland – it is a duty for me to make all Poles feel proud.” Poland’s biggest weapon should be European Golden Boot winner Robert Lewandowski, but Sousa must cope without two other big names in his attack because Arkadiusz Milik and Krzysztof Piatek are injured.
Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and Euro 2016 stalwart Grzegorz Krychowiak are in the squad, however, as the team bid to at least match their performance of reaching the quarter-finals five years ago in France where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal.
“The backbone of our team from two previous major tournaments is still here, we understand each other with eyes closed,” Krychowiak said.
Poland have scored 11 goals in five matches under Sousa in 2021, but scored the opening goal in the game only twice, against Russia and Andorra.
“It is important to score first against teams playing from counter-attack,” Krychowiak said. “We cannot start the match in the second half.”
Slovakia know they will have to be strong at the back today as they play in only their third major tournament but have reached the knockouts in both their previous appearances on a major stage at the 2010 World Cup and at Euro 2016.
“Poland are a tough opponent,” said captain Marek Hamsik, who has 26 goals in 126 games for Slovakia and led the team to the last 16 in their first European Championship appearance five years ago.
“They have huge quality, especially in attack, so we have to be strong in defence but have to also show what we are capable of doing,” added the 33-year-old.
Slovakia’s veteran squad, with the 30-year-old Robert Mak and Juraj Kucka, 34, joining Hamsik in midfield, will attempt to navigate a tough group which also includes Sweden and Spain.
Centre back Milan Skriniar, fresh from winning the Serie A title with Inter Milan, will be tasked with keeping Lewandowski, this season’s European Golden Boot winner, in check.
Slovakia head coach Stefan Tarkovic, an assistant during Euro 2016, said he hoped his side could build on their strong defensive displays in their two warmup fixtures, a 1-1 draw with Bulgaria and a goalless stalemate against Austria.
Tarkovic said the team would be ready for an aggressive Poland side, who are 21st in the FIFA rankings, 15 places above Slovakia.
“They have a strong attack. We have to prepare for their way of attacking and hopefully we will be effective in attack as well,” he said.