Euro 2012: Poland's hopes riding on Dortmund trio
The European Championship hopes of Poland are riding on three Bundesliga champions - Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek.
The Polish trio helped power Borussia Dortmund to its second consecutive German league title. Now they are looking to carry over that success to a Poland side eager to put on a good show for their home fans at Euro 2012.
''We are the driving force behind our (Dortmund) team,'' Lewandowski said. ''I hope we'll be the same for the national team during the European Championship.''
Poland, which is the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, opens play on June 8 in Warsaw against Greece before facing the Czech Republic and Russia in Group A. For the Poles to have a chance of advancing to the knockout stage, Lewandowski, Blaszczykowski and Piszczek will have to carry the load.
All three enjoyed standout seasons in Germany, but Lewandowski's rise to stardom has been the most spectacular.
The 23-year-old striker won a Polish championship with Lech Poznan before moving to Dortmund in 2010. After an average first year with the club, Lewandowski exploded this season, becoming the team's primary striker and scoring 22 goals in 34 matches - third best in the league.
He even scored the sole goal - a neat flick with his back to the goal - in Dortmund's late-season 1-0 victory over powerhouse Bayern Munich to all but clinch the German title.
It's that sort of cold-blooded scoring ability in big matches that has Poles counting on Lewandowski - the 2011 Polish player of the year - to carry the load offensively for a team that has struggled in recent years to score at big tournaments.
In a disastrous showing at the 2008 European Championship, Poland managed only one goal - which the referee later said should have been disallowed because of offside.
''Robert is a fantastic player and with the form that he's shown this season, he would be a strong point for any team in the world,'' Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny said. ''Those are strong words, but Lewy has proven that he's a world class striker.''
Lewandowski will be able to count on the familiar face of Blaszczykowski, who has become a fixture at Dortmund since joining the club in 2007 from Wisla Krakow. The 26-year-old attacking midfielder's pace, dribbling skills and trademark aggressive runs down the right flank have proven key for both his club and the national side.
Blaszczykowski missed Poland's Euro 2008 campaign after he was forced to quit the squad just before the opener because of a nagging hamstring injury. Ironically, that opened the door for Piszczek, who cut short his vacation on the Greek island of Rhodes to replace Blaszczykowski in Austria.
This time, Piszczek won't have to wait for a last-minute call up to the national team.
The 26-year-old defender moved to Dortmund from Hertha Berlin in 2010 and is now considered by many to be the best defender in the German league.
Piszczek, who scored four goals this year for his club, said the thousands of minutes he's spent on the field with Lewandowski and Blaszczykowski during the club season should give them a leg up on the competition at Euro 2012.
''It's been a dream to play such a tournament at home and we are looking forward to it,'' Piszczek said. ''It's an advantage that we play together here in Dortmund. We'll fit right in when we join our squad, no problem.''