It says much about the feeling around Poland's squad that nobody is completely content. "I'm happy the players aren't fully satisfied," manager Adam Nawalka said after their goalless draw against Germany. Indeed, there is a growing sense that, when credible outsiders for Euro 2016 are mentioned, his team should be mentioned more prominently.
Poland have shown two faces in as many games so far. First, they comprehensively outplayed Northern Ireland in a brisk, front-footed performance and were left scratching their heads in confusion that they had not scored more than once. When faced with the Germans, it was a more cautious display, but they broke brightly on a number of occasions and Arkadiusz Milik, the matchwinner four days previously, missed two golden chances to claim a massive victory.
Perhaps it is too early to draw conclusions, but the trends are promising. If Poland can dictate against the weaker sides and operate with patience, restraint and steel against the favourites, they have the qualities needed to go far in any tournament. The question now is exactly what they are capable of.
On paper, it is a side with few clear weaknesses. Centre-backs Kamil Glik and Michal Pazdan have been imperious so far and, in front of them, the Sevilla midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak -- surely one of the world's best players in his position -- has been a model of physical and technical excellence. There is experience and guile on the wings through Jakub Blaszczykowski and Kamil Grosicki, while the relatively unknown Kamil Kapustka, 19, had an outstanding game against Northern Ireland.
Then, of course, there is Poland's attack. If the lively Milik has blown hot and cold, the onus is now on Robert Lewandowski -- who has often drifted deep in their two games -- to shine. It was impossible to escape the feeling that the Bayern Munich striker would have finished those chances against Germany; get him in the right positions and Poland, so flexible all over the park, could beat anybody, but they are yet to carve him a clear chance.
Defensive solidity seems critical at this stage, though, and it was hard to disagree with the midfielder Slawomir Peszko when he said in the pre-match press conference that securing the back line first of all is "the right way of progressing ... the most important at the moment."
Germany, Italy and Spain are the only other sides not to have conceded yet and none of them boast a centre-forward of Lewandowski's potential. Croatia, probably the team most comparable to Poland's level, are a smoother football side but are more prone to mishap (as they showed in losing a 2-0 lead to the Czech Republic), and Nawalka's team currently looks to have the coolest, clearest heads of the less obvious contenders.
On Tuesday, Poland should defeat already-eliminated Ukraine, although there is the complication that most derbies have an added edge. Should the Ukrainians throw in the towel -- or Poland find their clinical edge in time -- there is the possibility of outscoring Germany and topping Group C, but more likely is a second-round tie against the Group B runners-up, Switzerland. On the flip side, a third-placed finish could see them play France. If all went to plan, they would probably tee up a quarterfinal against Spain and the chance to go from dark horses to serious contenders.
"Mentally, tactically and physically we have shown that our condition is at a very high level," Nawalka said on Monday. "In terms of organisation at the back and up front, I'm happy to see the improvement and that's why we always look forward positively."
Well done Poland. Definitely a great result . #euro Milik owes us all a couple of goals
- Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) June 16, 2016
Poland certainly have some goodwill behind them. Last week the actor Russell Crowe tweeted "I like this Polish team, pure underdogs, feel like a real team," and proceeded to engage in a good-natured exchange with Milik after lamenting the forward's misses. It was a surreal interlude but showed that Poland, once a side easily ignored, have turned a head or two.
Four years ago, as co-hosts, they crashed out at the group stage -- repeating their fate from Euro 2008, their first appearance in the competition. History will be written this time, then, whatever happens, and Poland are travelling with enough momentum to suggest there are a few more chapters to come.