Whether or not you have an ancestral link to Italy, fans of Serie A will always have a soft spot for the Italian national team when a major tournament comes into focus, but with the Azzurri absent from the 2022 World Cup, many will look to cheer on another side competing in Qatar this winter.
With one of the highest concentrations of players plying their trade in the Italian top flight – second only to Serbia with 11 – Poland will have significant backing from supporters on the peninsula and further afield when their campaign gets underway against Mexico on Tuesday evening.
Nine of coach Czeslaw Michniewicz’ squad feature for Serie A clubs, while a tenth, former Bari and Torino centre-back Kamil Glik, is currently attempting to return to the top flight with Serie B side Benevento, and an estimated 100,000 poles are currently living in the country.
As the 2022/23 campaign paused on Matchday 15, the outpouring of concern and sympathy for Spezia goalkeeper Bartlomiej Dragowski, after his involvement at the tournament was ended by a broken ankle sustained against Hellas Verona, highlighted the sense of feeling for a player who first arrived at Fiorentina in 2016.
Poland’s Italian-flavoured defence
Had it not been for the 25-year-old’s unfortunate injury, Poland’s entire goalkeeping trio would have been Serie A-based. With likely first-choice Wojciech Szczesny currently holding the No. 1 jersey at Juventus and Lukasz Skorupski performing solidly further south at Bologna.
However, support for the Bialo-czerwoni (White and reds) will not be on sentiment alone, with a realistic chance of progressing from the group stages, despite being paired with one of the favourites, Argentina. The Eastern Europeans will view Mexico and Saudi Arabia, who complete the lineup in Group C, as beatable opposition.
It is expected that Dragowski’s Spezia teammate, Jakub Kiwior, will form part of a three-man defence alongside Glik, despite just a handful of caps at international level. The ex-Palermo man’s guidance and experience – he should reach 100 appearances in Qatar – will give Poland a solid base from which to build.
Sampdoria’s Bartosz Bereszynski will also add experience and could even make it an entirely Italy-based defence at times, whereas AS Roma youngster Nicola Zalewski could surprise many if let loose at wing-back.
Zielinski of Napoli growing in importance
The performances of Napoli midfielder Piotr Zielinski will be crucial to Poland at the tournament, though, with the former Empoli man not only the main source of creativity for the Bialo-czerwoni, but something of an elder statesman, even at 28, with 74 caps in the Eagles shirt, and will look to recreate his club form in the Middle East.
It will be Zielinski who will be required to supply the ammunition for captain and star striker Robert Lewandowski, who will also be supported by the attacking talents of Serie A duo Arkadiusz Milik of Juventus and Salernitana striker Krzysztof Piatek. After the Granata frontman’s career failed to live up to the hype surrounding his €35m move to AC Milan in January 2019, the World Cup could be the perfect opportunity to remind everyone of his attacking abilities.
If Poland can beat Mexico to second place behind Argentina, the arduous task of facing current world champions France is likely to greet them in the Round of 16, but Euro 2020 semi-finalists Denmark are also a realistic opponent.
With their Serie A contingent on top form, defeating the Scandinavians would not be impossible, and reaching the quarter-finals would have Italy cheering loud and proud for their adopted nation.