Poland head coach Adam Nawalka has identified Northern Ireland’s collective spirit as their biggest strength as he tries to guide his nation to a first European Championship finals victory.
The Poles meet Michael O’Neill’s squad in Nice on Sunday hoping to make more of an impact on the tournament than they have done in the previous two editions, when they were eliminated from the group stages without a solitary point.
The biggest threat they will pose to the Northern Irish is obvious, with Robert Lewandowski dubbed one of the best two strikers in the world by O’Neill, yet Nawalka was reluctant to pinpoint a specific member of his counterpart’s squad as one to watch.
Instead he hailed the togetherness of a country unbeaten in their most recent dozen internationals.
“We are expecting a tough opponent, a tough match and a highly demanding match,” Nawalka said.
“It will be a difficult opponent and as for how we approach it... we don’t want to talk about personal names. Northern Ireland are a team, their strengths come from team work and team effort. I think we will be able to face them in all aspects of the game.”
Nawalka was keen to stress how Romania’s performance against France in the competition’s curtain-raiser on Friday night also proved that any perceived minnows will not lie down.
“It’s the European Championship and the best teams will compete here so there are no weak teams here in the tournament,” he added.
“Every match doesn’t have a favourite and the opening match just proves that. The one between Albania and Switzerland was very equal and the result could have been different.
“We will try to work and play this match to win it and thinking about winning it but we need to remember that the Northern Irish team is a very strong team that has won its group, hasn’t lost in 12 and they will set the bar high. We are expecting that.”
As is the case with O’Neill, Nawalka will be taking charge at a major tournament for the first time in his career.
He played at the 1978 World Cup, though, and he believes that experience, coupled with his role as number two alongside Leo Beenhakker eight years ago, has prepared him for taking the reins in France.
“There’s no stress here,” Nawalka added.
“It probably comes with the experiences, both as a a player and a coach. It’s significant for me, I’ve been at the European Championship as an assistant to Leo Beenhakker in 2008 and I’m trying to use those experiences here.
“Perhaps I feel a kind of positive pressure of being motivated. I don’t feel tired at all, I always feel ready to work even more and it’s a great feeling.”
Poland’s biggest injury doubt, midfielder Kamil Grosicki, trained at the Stade de Nice on Saturday afternoon and a decision will be made on his ankle problem ahead of the game on Sunday.