How they got here
Erm, they voted for Michel Platini!
It's widely reported that the tournament hosting rights were handed to Poland and Ukraine as a "thank you" from Platini, for the Eastern European national football associations voting for him in the UEFA Presidential Elections. As the co-hosts, Poland haven't had to qualify for the tournament; and therefore have not played a competitive game since their World Cup Qualifying loss to Slovakia back in October 2009!
Without the hassle of qualifying, Poland have managed to squeeze in 23 friendly games since the end of the 2010 World Cup; and during that time National Team boss Franciszek Smuda has been able to experiment with his line-up, and find the formula that he feels will give Poland the best chance during the summer.
Despite some good results, the team's preparations have hit some small snags along the way, most notably with FC Koln midfielder Sławomir Peszko's recent arrest for an alleged drunken assault on a German taxi driver. His misdemeanour was brushed aside by club bosses, but not by Smuda who banned him from his Euro 2012 squad.
Why they'll win
Okay, so winning the tournament is going to be a massive ask for the lowest ranked side in the competition; but in what is arguably the most competitive group, they have a good chance of progressing. The Borussia Dortmund trio of Jakub Błaszczykowski, Robert Lewandowski and Łukasz Piszczek are in fantastic form at the moment, grabbing 29 league goals between them - with striker Lewandowski firing 21 of them; whilst the France-based pair of Dariusz Dudka and Ludovic Obraniak have also been in solid form for Auxerre and Bordeaux respectively.
The national team's form in recent months has also been quite promising, with Smuda's side losing just two of their 11 fixtures during the last 12 months - with those being against strong sides from France and Italy. Draws against strong sides from Portugal, Germany and Mexico have punctuated wins against Hungary, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Georgia; whilst a European-based Argentina side - featuring players such as Pablo Zabaleta, Emiliano Insua and Nicolas Gaitan - were also dispatched in Warsaw.
The "Białe-Orły" (White Eagles) will also be hoping that the home crowds during their games in Warsaw and Wrocław can give them an edge over their Group A opponents Russia, Greece and Czech Republic. Polish supporters are renowned for getting behind their team, and their chanting from the stands could give the team an added push when needed.
Why they won't win
Experience of competitive international fixtures could be a problem for Smuda's men, as only a handful of his squad were around for their last competitive tie - two-and-a-half years ago during Poland's unsuccessful 2010 World Cup Qualifying campaign. Although many of the squad ply their trade in high-profile European leagues, the pressure of playing in Europe's most prestigious international tournament - with the added weight of an expectant home crowd - will be a different experience altogether.
The heart of defence is a problem for Smuda to contend with; Sochaux centre-back Damien Perquis has been out for a few months with a broken arm, and has missed a large portion of his side's successful battle against relegation from Ligue 1. Perquis should return in time for the Euros, with a possibility of Smuda selecting him in his starting XI. The French-born defender is relatively new to the Poland squad, having only made his début 9 months ago - making five appearances since. With his inability to speak fluent Polish, communication with the rest of the team may be a slight issue; as could his ability to gel into an already-shaky back-line. With Perquis' defensive partner Marcin Wasilewski also missing from the Anderlecht squad recently due to a ban for elbowing an opponent, the back-line is an area Smuda will be keen to work with ahead of the opening game.
The side also have a slight problem with strength-in-depth, especially up-front. After Robert Lewandowski, the only striker in the squad who has received a decent amount of playing time this season is Legia Warszawa's young Michał Kucharczyk - and even he has averaged less than 40 minutes in each game, and a goal every 320 minutes. If Lewandowski does pick up a knock, Smuda will need his back-ups to be in good condition.
A further worry is that first choice keeper Wojciech Szczęsny has been struggling with a shoulder injury for the last few months, and talk is that he has been playing for Arsenal despite having pain-killing injections. With the Premier League season finishing later than some others, Szczęsny's arrival to the squad camp in Austria was late; therefore the doctors have has less time to assess his injury.
Poland's lowly FIFA ranking of 65 (as of May 2012) makes them 50/1 outsiders for the tournament with most bookmakers. It's clear that most believe that they will struggle to make it out of the group, let alone shock the world and lift the trophy in Kyiv.
We've seen before
Arsenal's first and second choice goalkeepers occupy the same status for their national team as they have at their club for the previous 18 months. Depending on his injury, 22-year old Szczęsny - son of former national keeper Maciej - is likely to be handed the number 1 jersey after impressing whilst picking up his previous nine international caps; whilst the older and more experienced fellow Gunner Łukasz Fabiański should have to settle for being Wojtek's back-up. Fabiański's confidence is likely to have suffered though, after Arsene Wenger preferred an injured Szczęsny to his back-up during the end-of-season run-in.
Another player who may be familiar, especially to those North of the Border, is Celtic's on-loan front-man Paweł Brożek. Since his temporary switch from Turkey to Glasgow, the striker's form has not really improved to the extent in which he'd like ahead of the tournament; but struggling are Poland for competition behind Lewandowski, Brożek was almost guaranteed a place in the squad via default. Aiming to recreate his form in the white-and-red of Poland rather than the green-and-white of Celtic, the Kielce-born striker will be hoping to add to his tally of 8 international goals; but if he does, it'll likely be off of the bench.
Although he is not expected to have a massive impact on the team during the tournament, it wouldn't be surprising to see the new guy in the Białe Orły squad turn a few heads. After making his Ekstraklasa début towards the end of the 2010/11 season, 19-year-old attacking midfielder Rafał Wolski made his big breakthrough this year with a string of impressive performances in the Legia Warszawa side. Seven goals in thirty-one appearances this season have thrust the youngster into the spotlight, and the attacker is quickly becoming one of the hottest properties in Polish football. In recent months there has even been speculation that he will move abroad in the summer, with Italy's Udinese and numerous Bundesliga clubs touted as a possible destination.
Called up mainly as a back up to the more experienced centre-back pairing of Perquis and Wasilewski, Lech Poznań's 20-year-old Marcin Kamiński is also a fairly new member of the national squad - the defender's only previous call-up being in an all-Ekstraklasa squad for a friendly against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Making 28 league appearances for Lech this season, he was seen as an integral part of the club's back-line by both former boss Jose Mari Bakero and current coach Mariusz Rumak; and like Wolski, he is regarded as one of the best young talents in the country.
How they will play
Franciszek Smuda knows that his team plays better as a team rather than individuals, and prefers to set his team up rather defensively to break on the counter attack. The former Wisła Kraków and Zagłębie Lubin boss also knows that Poland don't particularly have the quality in depth like other nations; and by building a system around his players - rather than shoehorning them into a pre-existing formation - give his squad the best chance of success this summer.
A 4-2-3-1 formation fits Smuda's squad almost perfectly - with two midfielders (possibly Dudka and Eugen Polański) sitting in front of the back four, removing some of the pressure from the defence and allowing the front four to break. With Błaszczykowski on the right side, and possibly Terek Grozny's Maciej Rybus on the left, there is definitely the quality to feed Dortmund's goal-machine Lewandowski, whilst also helping to add to the goal tally. And if Ludo Obraniak is given his favoured, less-structured role in the centre, he has already shown in Ligue 1 that he can chip in with a few goals and assists.
The (quite beautiful) Poland kit is available from Kitbag.
Ryan is a regular contributor to IBWM and edits the outstanding Ekstraklasa Review.