Euro 2012 Polonya
Area: 312,679 km²
Currency: Złoty (zł)
Time zone: CET
Poland is a republic of just under 40 million people at the geographical heart of Europe bordering Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belarus, Lithuania, Russia and UEFA EURO 2012 co-hosts Ukraine. In a turbulent history it has been an independent kingdom, united with Lithuania, under occupation from various countries, and since 1918 an independent republic. Under Soviet influence following World War Two, Poland regained full autonomy in 1989 and became a member of the European Union in 2004.
One of the world's best-known Poles, John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) served as Pope between 1978 and 2005. Other notable Polish figures include Marie Skłodowska-Curie, radioactivity pioneer and twice Nobel Prize winner, revolutionary astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus and composer Fryderyk Chopin. Lech Wałęsa won the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize after leading independent trade union and social movement 'Solidarność' (Solidarity) in the fight against communism.
Generally speaking, Polish food is hearty fare; żurek is an onion, sausage and sour cream soup made of rye and often served in a hollowed-out loaf of bread. Barszcz (borscht), a beetroot soup, is less uniquely Polish, not a criticism posed to bigos, a meaty stew slow cooked with sauerkraut and pickled cabbage. Also very popular are Pierogi, which are dumplings usually containing meat or cabbage with mushrooms.
Poland have a proud sporting tradition. Outside football, they are strong in winter sports, with a huge following for world champion ski jumper Adam Małysz. Motorsport has also yielded a number of stars, including Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica and speedway favourite Tomasz Gollob, who has put the discipline on the map in Poland and captained the national team to several FIM Speedway World Cup triumphs. Other notable Polish sportspeople include four-time Olympic walking gold-medallist Robert Korzeniowski, ice hockey players Krzysztof Oliwa and Mariusz Czerkawski, basketball's Marcin Gortat and sprinter Irena Szewińska – the only woman to simultaneously hold 100m, 200m and 400m world records.
Football is the most popular sport in Poland and the Polish Football Association (PZPN) was founded in 1919, a year after independence, joining FIFA in 1923 and becoming one of the inaugural UEFA members. The national team made their bow on 18 December 1921, losing 1-0 in Hungary, and now have many achievements to their name. In 1973 they pipped England to a place at the 1974 FIFA World Cup and finished third, a feat matched in 1982. They also qualified in 1938, 1978, 1986, 2002 and 2006, and made their UEFA European Championship debut in 2008. Poland won Olympic gold in 1972 and silver in 1976 and 1992; further honours have come with victories in the 1993 UEFA European Under-16 Championship and 2001 UEFA European U18 Championship.
Poland's heyday in the 1970s and 1980s was inspired by a golden generation. There was midfielder Kazimierz Deyna, defender Władysław Żmuda, goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski, striker Wlodzimierz Lubanski and playmaker Zbigniew Boniek, regarded as one of the best players of all time. Andrzej Szarmach struck 32 times in 61 games for Poland, and striker Grzegorz Lato was the first man to win 100 caps for the country, claiming 45 goals and top scoring at the 1974 World Cup.
The Polish top division, the Ekstraklasa, began in 1927 and local rivals Górnik Zabrze and Ruch Chorzów have each won 14 titles. Since the end of the communist era in 1989, Wisła Kraków and Legia Warszawa have been the dominant clubs. Górnik reached the 1969/70 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final in 1970, losing 2-1 to Manchester City FC in Vienna, while more recently Legia won through to the last eight of the 1995/96 UEFA Champions League, finishing above Rosenborg BK and Blackburn Rovers FC in their group.