On Wednesday Polish champions Wisla Krakow will start their next European campaign away at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem against Beitar.
Since 1998, when Boguslaw Cupial invested in Wisla Krakow, they are the most successful team in Poland, having won 6 championships, 3 second places and 2 cups. Wisla also fought successfully in the UEFA Cup in 2002/03 and 2006/07 but the owner’s biggest dream – a profitable Champions League group stage – still hasn’t come true despite several attempts.
After a disappointing 2006/07 campaign, when Wisla finished only 8th in the Ekstraklasa (the lowest position during Cupial’s reign), new coach Maciej Skorza confirmed Wisla’s supremacy on domestic fields last season. They finished with a 14-points margin over second-placed Legia Warsaw.
In the winter transfer window Wisla, already crowned by media, rebuilt the squad for the CL qualifying. Polish internationals Wojciech Lobodzinski and Radoslaw Matusiak (loan) arrived to the Henryk Reyman stadium, while the only loss was winger Kamil Kosowski to Spanish Cadiz FC. Supporters were also happy with contract extensions for key players Arkadiusz Glowacki and Pawel Brozek (top league scorer with 23 goals).
In the summer Wisla were not only inactive on the transfer market, but lost a few of their teeth. Utility player Dariusz Dudka, who played for Poland at Euro 2008, moved to French side AJ Auxerre for a fee of about 2,5 million Euros. Brazilian Jean Paulista didn’t have his contract extended and signed for Cyprian APOEL. In addition, talented young defender Adam Kokoszka (one appearance at Euro 2008) was fed up with waiting for a first squad chance and left the club under the Webster ruling and will probably sign for Empoli. Matusiak didn’t manage to become a first choice player either, ended his loan spell and returned to SC Heerenveen.
The sole arrival (not counting returns from loans and promotions from the reserve team) is free agent Slovak Peter Singlar, but he is supposedly only a replacement player for experienced defender Marcin Baszczynski.
Despite a lower budget than Beitar’s, Wisla are considered by the Polish media as slight favourites in the upcoming clash. Even without expensive signings they have more players experienced at the international level than the Israeli side. Supporters’ hopes rest also on history. Wisla were never eliminated in the 2nd qualifying round of the Champions League, having at least a chance to compete in the UEFA Cup.
Other Polish teams in European competitions are Cup winners Legia Warsaw and Lech Poznan. Last week Legia’s scoreless draw in the UEFA Cup first leg disappointed its supporters, but after a Polish Super Cup win over Wisla the elimination in such an early stage would be too much for this solidly-strengthened team coached by ambitious Jan Urban, Poland and Osasuna player in 1980’s. Most notable summer arrivals are Macedonian Pance Kumbev and Warsaw-born Piotr Rocki from Groclin Grodzisk, playmaker Maciej Iwanski from Zaglebie Lubin, as well as Spaniards Mikel Arruabarrena (Tenerife) and Inaki Descarga (Levante). Beside Inaki Astiz, who ended his loan from Osasuna, no key players departed from Legia this summer.
Lech ended their inconvienent excursion to Azerbaijan with the narrowest but certain win over Khazar Lenkoran thanks to a goal from a talented rookie Robert Lewandowski. The most attended club in the Ekstraklasa will seriously fight for the championship this season after a 16-years wait for the title. This season is expected to give fruits of a merger with neighbouring side Amica Wronki 2 years ago. Coach Franciszek Smuda has signed his favourite Manuel Arboleda, whom he worked together with at Zaglebie Lubin, and young Bosnian international (2 caps) Semir Stilic from Zeljeznicar. Major departures are Marcin Zajac to Ruch Chorzow and an effective substitute forward Przemyslaw Pitry to Gornik Zabrze.
Second legs of the UEFA Cup ties will be held on Thursday evening.
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