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Jun 17, 2012, 10.06 AM IST
SOCCER-EURO-CZECH:Lack of winning formula haunts Poles again
By Patrick Graham
WROCLAW (Reuters) - There is a famous Polish cartoon of a group of knights returning from battle, broken and defeated. One says to the others: "Enough of these damn moral victories."
It is a national theme, which returned to haunt the Euro 2012 co-hosts in a tame exit from the tournament on Saturday.
Brave and well-balanced in draws with Greece and Russia which belied their status as the tournament's lowest-ranked side, Franciszek Smuda's men had done enough to suggest the home support should drive them to victory against a young Czech Republic side.
But once their southern neighbours had ridden out a barrage of shots in the first 15 minutes, they did not have the guile, class or, dare one say it, character to progress.
As it was in Switzerland and Austria four years ago, the tournament will be weaker for the hosts' early departure.
Smuda, who set his team up perfectly to defend and counter against a slick Russian side, had given chapter and verse on how he could play the same game against a Czech team he insisted would not be able to restrain itself from attacking.
But after a handful of errors from a much-criticised Czech backline had offered some early hope, sticking with three essentially defensive central midfielders left the Poles' main striker Robert Lewandowski too isolated.
The lack of pressure high up the pitch allowed the Czechs to keep the ball for long periods and when Smuda finally switched to a more attacking 4-4-2, the visitors picked off a tiring defence denied the protection of the extra holding midfielder.
It was all too much for the thousands of fans who had bounced into the ground calling for "Victory, Poles, only victory will do".
Two decades of toil have given Poles prosperity most could never imagine under communism and Euro 2012 in many ways has been a coming out party for a nation whose population is almost as big as that in Spain or England.
Football, however, has not rewarded them in kind and Saturday was supposed to change that but didn't.
As against Greece, when the game went awry Poland could not find the drive to turn it around and captain Jakub Blaszczykowski was unable to conjure up another wonder goal to match his effort against Russia.
That inability to respond will weigh on the minds of the thousands who headed off to Wroclaw's bars and clubs to drown their sorrows, although the backlash Smuda faces will have been diluted by the news that his contract is not being renewed.
Why did attacking midfielders Adrian Mierzejewski and Kamil Grosicki not start against Greece - or at least not come on in the second half. Why did they not start on Saturday?
After the Greece game the coach, who prides himself on being his own man, said: "I have to do things my way and I always come out smelling of roses".
(Reporting by Patrick Graham; editing by Ken Ferris)
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