They had not been present during the summer congress of Europe’s finest in West Germany, Poland, as they had only finished fourth in their qualification group, with defeats in both Hungary and in Greece. As they had been paired with the very much up and coming Dutch, who would indeed go all the way in the European Championships, their qualification had possibly not been expected. Their showing during the last World Cup, the one in Mexico ’86, had left a great deal to be desired, even if they did make it to the second phase. Their squad had been ageing, and they had suffered heavy defeats against both England and, to send them out of the tournament, Brazil.
Wojciech Łazarek had been tasked by the Polish FA to start the rebuilding process, but would the 1990 qualifiers come too soon for the Polish? And just how much patience would there be? Perhaps not a great deal. Łazarek will have felt pressure to deliever ahead of the Italia ’90 qualifiers, and for the opening Group 2 match against Albania he would chose to include a lot of experienced players. So where were the next generation that could take Poland to the next level?
At least there were some decent players plying their trade abroad: the tall libero Roman Wójcicki, fine defensive midfielder Waldemar Matysik and ageing forward Włodzimierz Smolarek. Striker Jan Furtok was catching the attention of clubs in the West German Bundesliga, and he would indeed be moving on to Hamburg during the qualification. Yet another forward, Dariusz Dziekanowski, would move from Legia Warszawa to Scottish giants Celtic. Domestic stars were central defender Damian Łukasik (Lech Poznań) and midfielders Jan Urban (Górnik Zabrze) and the blonde Andrzej Rudy (GKS Katowice).
On the topic of Andrzej Rudy: 23 years by the time when he appeared in the playmaker’s position for their opening qualifier at home to Albania, no one would know that this was his final cap for four and a half years. The following month, the Polish national team had gathered for a camp in Italy, where they would be playing a fun-game against a select from the Italian Serie A. During this stay in Milan, Rudy had met up with someone whose aim was to help him flee to the West. He managed to go to West Germany, and he would be staying in the city of Cologne, whose football team he would sign up for, and for whom he would finally make his long awaited debut in October 1989. Alas, despite softer lines all across Eastern Europe following the various countries’ respective revolutions, Rudy failed to reappear for the Polish national team until late in the qualification ahead of USA ’94.
Once again Poland would be looking to their traditionally strong home form to put them into contention for World Cup qualification.
10.07.1988 United States 0-2 Poland
Goals: Kosecki 2
Line-up: Wandzik – Kubicki (R Warzycha 68), Bendkowski, Łukasik, Wdowczyk (Cisek 73) – Prusik (c), Rudy, Tarasiewicz (K Warzycha 43), Urban – Furtok (Ziober 69), Kosecki
15.07.1988 Canada 1-2 Poland
Goals: Rudy, Tarasiewicz
Line-up: Wandzik – Kubicki, Bendkowski, Łukasik (Tarasiewicz h-t), Wdowczyk (Cisek 67) – Prusik (c), Rudy, Urban – Kosecki (R Warzycha 83), Furtok, K Warzycha
24.08.1988 Poland 3-2 Bulgaria
Goals: Ivanov (own goal), Furtok, Rudy
Poland: Wandzik – Wójcicki, Łukasik, Wdowczyk (Cisek 68) – Prusik (c), Rudy, Matysik (Ziober 68), Urban – K Warzycha (Król 82) Furtok, Kosecki (Tarasiewicz h-t).
Poland did well to beat a decent Bulgarian team, and it could from the line-up look like Łazarek had been experimenting with a 3-4-3 formation, where Wójcicki fell into his natural role as sweeper, with Łukasik and Wdowczyk ahead of him, and with Matysik, Prusik, Urban and Rudy in a strong-looking midfield diamond, whilst Furtok, Kosecki and K Warzycha had taken the three strikers’ roles. Goals came from Ivanov (own goal), Furtok and Rudy. Ziober replaced Matysik midway through the second half for his fifth cap, the lowest tally among the Polish players.
Matysik’s first cap for more than a year.
21.09.1988 East Germany 1-2 Poland
Goals: Furtok 2
Poland: Wandzik – R. Warzycha, Bendkowski, Łukasik, Wdowczyk – K Warzycha, Tarasiewicz (Ziober h-t), Rudy, Urban (c) – Furtok, Smolarek.
It took two second half goals by Furtok to win this friendly with neighbours GDR in Cottbus. It was Poland’s fourth straight win, after their Trans-Atlantic July mini-tour had also yielded wins against USA and Canada. This time Łazarek’s formation could have been a 4-4-2, with ŁKS Łódź defender Bendkowski winning his fifth cap to keep Łukasik company in the centre, and with R Warzycha and Wdowczyk as full-backs. K Warzycha and Urban could have taken to the midfield flanks, right and left respectively, whilst Rudy and Tarasiewicz appear to have been playing in the centre. Veteran Smolarek was back in the side to accompany Furtok up front. When Ziober replaced Tarasiewicz at half time, it is likely that Urban came into a more central role, with the long-haired ŁKS Łódź man coming on in a wide capacity.