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Poland's savior falls from favor

Fans fault Coach Leo Beenhakker as the national soccer team's fortunes fall.

That was the high point. The national team proved to be an embarrassment at the championships last year, which were jointly held by Austria and Switzerland. The Poles lost their first game against Germany — a much better team but an ancient enemy — and in the end pulled out only one tie from the tournament before being knocked out in the first round.

The team has since struggled to qualify for next summer’s World Cup being held in South Africa, and Beenhakker is getting a lot of the blame.

In March, Northern Ireland unexpectedly defeated Poland after Poland’s goalie, Artur Boruc, made a hash of defending the goal. Now Poland is in third place in its qualifying group.

In a further humiliation, Poland tied Iraq 1-1 in a friendly game in South Africa last month.

A disgusted Beenhakker told Polish reporters to “F--- off!” (he has also learned how to curse in Polish) and then dumped the team during a transfer in Amsterdam. “It bothers me that all those people who are criticizing me have done nothing to move Polish football forward,” Beenhakker said in a recent interview with the Dziennik newspaper. “They’re just talking, blah, blah, blah, but nothing changes. And they’re only blaming me.”

As the team has stumbled, so Beenhakker’s Polish star has dimmed.

Artur Wichniarek, a Polish striker who plays for Berlin but is not part of the national squad, told the Dziennik: “I will play for the Polish football team at any time of day or night, but I will not play for Leo Beenhakker who mocks Polish people and my country.”

When he put out feelers about working part time for Feyenoord a few months ago, Polish soccer authorities quickly moved to see if that would allow them to fire Beenhakker. Before a recent meeting of the Polish Football Association, an official said he was “disenchanted and disgusted” by Beenhakker’s behavior.

The Polish press has also been calling on Beenhakker to go — even rooting recently for him to take a job with a South African team.

The problem for Poland is that, although the country has qualified coaches of its own, Beenhakker has still racked up more successes than any trainer in the last three decades, and replacing him now could endanger the national team’s chances of entering the World Cup.

“We have to act rationally. There is no guarantee that another coach will be able to make up the lost distance,” said Kazimierz Grenia, a member of Polish soccer’s governing body, in a recent interview. He added that if the team makes it to South Africa, it would be time to get rid of Beenhakker and replace him with a Polish coach.

If that view prevails then Beenhakker’s chances of coaching the national team in 2012, when Poland and Ukraine jointly host the European soccer championships, look remote.

It is obvious that the love between Beenhakker and his adopted country is gone.

“Find someone better and be done with it,” Beenhakker said in his recent interview.