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For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and return as all 32 team previews a...

World Cup 2018 team preview: Does Poland have enough behind Lewandowski?

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and return as all 32 team previews and eight group previews roll in.

Odds to win Group H: 37%
Odds to advance: 61.5%
Odds to win World Cup: 2%
Elo rank: 19
Yahoo Sports power rank: 13

Our writers say: The Poles gamed FIFA’s rankings to sneak into pot 1 at the draw, and thus into a winnable group. Robert Lewandowski aside, however, they don’t have the quality of other top-seeded sides. Failure at the group stage is more likely than a knockout stage victory. — Henry Bushnell

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

World Cup appearance: 8th
Best World Cup finish: 3rd place (1974, 1982)
2014 finish: Did not qualify
Qualifying: Topped UEFA Group E ahead of Denmark, Montenegro
Schedule: Senegal (Tuesday, June 19, 8 a.m., FS1), Colombia (Sunday, June 24, 2 p.m., Fox), Japan (Thursday, June 28, 10 a.m., Fox/FS1)

Manager: Adam Nawalka
Captain: Robert Lewandowski (F)
Top players: Lewandowski, Piotr Zielinski (M), Kamil Glik (D), Arkadiusz Milik (F), Wojciech Szczesny (G)
Full 23-man (or preliminary) squad

Why they’ll win games: The starting 11 on June 19 might be Poland’s best of the 21st century. Lewandowski was the qualifying cycle’s top scorer, but he didn’t just bang in 16 goals with no support. Zielinski is, in many ways, the ideal sidekick. Karol Linetty has emerged to complement him and Grzegorz Krychowiak in midfield. Poland seemed to have developed a reputation as a fairly rigid, ordinary side earlier this decade, but this iteration fits neither description. 

Why they’ll lose games: They conceded 14 goals in a qualifying group that resembled a pond full of minnows (plus Denmark). That ranked joint 31st in Europe. The average of the four starting defenders is 30. Glik and Lukasz Piszczek are solid, but the Poles are vulnerable in wide areas – especially down their left. The wingers aren’t as sprightly as they once were. And on an unrelated note, there’s a worry that poor club form – Krychowiak couldn’t even get games at West Brom by season’s end – could carry over to the national team.

How they’ll play: Here’s where we discuss Milik. At times over the past two year’s, he’s been Poland’s second-most highly-rated player. But he’s had horrid luck with injuries, and only just returned from his latest torn knee ligament for the final few months of the club season. If fit and firing, his presence might compel Nawalka to go 4-4-2, with Milik and Lewandowski paired up top. But the team functions better in a 4-2-3-1 anyway, so Milik will likely come off the bench.

Projected lineup (4-2-3-1): Wojciech Szczesny; Lukasz Piszczek, Kamil Glik, Michal Pazdan, Maciej Rybus; Grzegorz Krychowiak, Karol Linetty; Jakub Blaszczykowski, Piotr Zielinski, Kamil Grosicki; Robert Lewandowski

If Milik starts, Zielinski could slide wide, likely into Grosicki’s spot. Elsewhere, this 11 seems set.

Rooting Guide
What makes them unique: Let’s talk about those FIFA rankings, and Poland’s scheming. And no, let’s not criticize it. Let’s laud it. It’s brilliant. Poland recognized a flaw in those rankings, which are used to seed the World Cup draw. They effectively punish teams merely for playing friendlies, regardless of wins and losses. So Poland simply decided to stop playing friendlies. It arranged just one between Euro 2016 and the all-important October 2017 rankings release, compared to four or five for most other nations. As a result, in less than two years, it rose from 35th to 6th. It jumped the likes of Spain into Pot 1 at the draw, and got a manageable group. It isn’t the only one to have pulled the ploy. But it executed better than anybody else.

Why to root for them: Because rooting against a striker as clinical and prolific as Lewandowski is often agonizing.

Why to root against them: There’s just not too much that makes them compelling, either from a footballing standpoint or a human-interest standpoint.

If you’re going to watch one game … Either of the first two. Take your pick.