The prolific Robert Lewandowski could make the difference for Poland in a tough group, but a difficult knockout path awaits beyond that.
Poland may not be anyone's favorite to lift the FIFA World Cup trophy in Russia this summer. Nevertheless, no one should underestimate a side who that is currently ranked 10th in the world by FIFA and who only lost on penalties to eventual champion Portugal in the Euro 2016 quarterfinal.
Admittedly, apart from a golden era in which its finished third at the 1974 and 1982 tournaments, the Poles' World Cup record is unremarkable at best. Since their exploits in 1982, they have featured in just three World Cups, losing in the second round in 1986 and crashing out in the group stages in 2002 and 2006.
However, with outstanding players such as Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Napoli midfielder Piotr Zieliński, Poland manager Adam Nawałka will no doubt be optimistic about his side's prospects of making a significant impact in this summer's tournament.
How They Qualified
The Poles dropped just five points and averaged 2.8 goals per game in their qualifying campaign, winning UEFA's Group E with ease. They finished five points ahead of Denmark in a group that also included Montenegro, Romania, Armenia and Kazakhstan.
Predictably, Lewandowski was the star of the campaign. The Poland captain netted 16 goals–a new record for a single European World Cup qualifying campaign.
Nevertheless, Poland conceded 14 goals in their qualifiers, which is more than any other European side featuring in this summer's tournament. It was also drubbed 4-0 by group runner-up Denmark in their meeting in Copenhagen.
Group Stage Games
Poland has been granted a bit of an unpredictable draw in Group H, in which it will face Senegal, Colombia and Japan. Not one would be considered an overwhelming favorite, but all are capable of emerging at the top of the group, more so Colombia, Poland and Senegal.
Poland's most challenging encounter is likely to be against Colombia, which reached the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. However, the South Americans failed to impress in qualifying, losing four and winning just one of their eight matches against the other sides in CONMEBOL's top five.
The Poles will kick off their campaign against Senegal on June 19, before facing Colombia on June 24 and Japan on June 28.
Possible Route to the Final
Regardless of whether it wins its group or finishes second, Poland will most likely be confronted by either Belgium or England in the round of 16.
The Belgians are ranked third in the world and boast a whole array of stars, such as Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku. The Three Lions may look less daunting on paper, but they are one of Poland's bogey sides, having defeated them 10 times since the Poles' only win in 1973.
If Poland manages to get to the quarterfinals, it will likely be rewarded with a matchup against either Germany or Brazil, which would then likely spell the end. If Poland achieves what would be considered a shocking victory over either side, it would most likely face Spain or Argentina (if it beats Germany), or France, Uruguay or Portugal (if it beat Brazil) in the semifinals.
Goalkeepers: Bartosz Bialkowski (Ipswich Town), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea), Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus)
Defenders: Jan Bednarek (Southampton), Bartosz Bereszynski (Sampdoria), Thiago Cionek (SPAL), Kamil Glik (AS Monaco), Artur Jedrzejczyk (Legia Warszawa), Michal Pazdan (Legia Warszawa), Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund)
Midfielders: Jakub Blaszczykowski (VfL Wolfsburg), Jacek Goralski (Ludogorets Razgrad), Kamil Grosicki (Hull City), Grzegorz Krychowiak (West Brom), Rafal Kurzawa (Gornik Zabrze), Karol Linetty (Sampdoria), Slawomir Peszko (Lechia Gdansk), Maciej Rybus (Lokomotiv Moscow), Piotr Zielinski (Napoli)
Forwards: Dawid Kownacki (Sampdoria), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Arkadiusz Milik (Napoli), Lukasz Teodorczyk (Anderlecht)
Note: Kamil Glik injured his shoulder in training and may be replaced by Marcin Kamiński.
(3-4-2-1) Wojciech Szczęsny; Michał Pazdan, Kamil Glik, Łukasz Piszczek; Maciej Rybus, Karol Linetty, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Artur Jędrzejczyk; Piotr Zieliński, Kamil Grosicki; Robert Lewandowski.
Poland may not scale the heights of 1974 or 1982, but it is likely to impress in the group stage - provided that Lewandowski shows the kind of prolific form that he produced in qualifying.
Beyond that point, it's tough sledding, but there's certainly hope for them in the second round. Belgium was stunned by Wales at the Euros, while England has won just two World Cup knockout matches since 1990. Neither is unassailable.
All in all, Poland has a decent change of getting out of the group, is somewhat unlikely to reach the quarterfinals and extremely unlikely to reach the last four.