Tuesday 21 May 2019, 14:01

Boniek: We could see the emergence of a new Lewandowski

  • Boniek is certain that Poland is ready for the U-20 World Cup kick-off

  • He says that qualifying for knockout phase is a must for the hosts

  • The Polish FA chief encourages fans to snap up tickets

On the eve of Poland hosting its first ever FIFA event, Polish Football Association President Zbigniew Boniek sat down with FIFA.com to talk about how well prepared the nation is to host the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019. Boniek, one of the greatest and most-decorated players in Poland's history, previews the tournament and speaks of his certainty that new stars will be born on Polish soil. The Former Juventus player hopes that Poland will advance from their group while he urges fans in the country to buy tickets and create a special atmosphere in the stands in Lodz, Bydgoszcz, Bielsko-Biala, Gdynia, Lublin and Tychy. Enjoy reading the full interview below.

(L-R) President of Polish Football Association Zbigniew Boniek and Robert Lewandowski of Poland celebrate 

FIFA.com: Now that the squads have been announced, are you familiar with any names or will you find out about players as the tournament progresses? Zbigniew Boniek: already know a few. Aside from Poland, I know some of the Italian players because Italian football is close to my heart. On the whole, this will be such an important moment for the players. For the majority of them it will be their first major tournament, so they’ll be doing their first interviews, press conferences; it’ll be their first time in the limelight. This will be one of the most memorable moments of their careers.

You played at three FIFA World Cups but never at the U-20 edition. If you could go back in time and play on home soil at such a tournament, how would you feel? I didn’t actually have the opportunity to play at the U-20 World Cup. I doubt many people remember that I played at the U-18 EURO in Sweden. And the truth is I remember every moment of that tournament; every match, every opponent, how every match panned out. The memories you create when you’re young are the most vivid, they stay with you forever; you can’t erase them. A lot of players will have the same memories from Poland 2019. I’d love to play at this tournament in Poland, but it’s not that easy to turn the clock back 43 years!

Sebastian Walukiewicz (Copyright: Cyfrasport)

When you played, you didn’t just inspire fans in Poland. One example is the Honduran international, Oscar Boniek Garcia, whose father loved watching you so much, especially at the World Cup in Spain, that he named his son after you. Do you think we will see the emergence of a new Boniek at this tournament? I think world football has produced so many excellent players in recent years that we don’t need another Boniek, we can leave him out! Having said that, we could see a player emerge in the same mould as Messi, Ronaldo, Lewandowski or Kane. I firmly believe that’ll happen at this tournament.

What can organising a tournament like this do for Poland? After EURO 2012, there was a huge growth in the tourism sector because we showed that we’re a country where you can eat well, where the people are hospitable and where you feel safe. It’s a great opportunity to showcase our country, not just in a footballing sense. So, I’d like to thank FIFA once again for trusting us and giving us this massive opportunity.

Garcia of Honduras poses during the Official FIFA World Cup 2014 portrait session on June 10, 2014 in Porto Feliz, Brazil.

What has to happen so that at the end of the tournament you can say to yourself, “You know what? I thought the tournament went really well.” I’d like to see Poland get out of the group. I hope that the weather doesn’t throw us any surprises – torrential rain, huge downpours, something that could disrupt matches and lead to a backlog of fixtures. In terms of everything else, if it’s within our control, we can deal with it.

Tickets will remain on sale until the last day of the competition. Prices are extremely reasonable, do you have a message for the fans? Yes, I urge fans to attend matches in their droves. It’d be great if we showed the world that we Poles love international football, especially youth football. I want us to prove that we’re capable of organising tournaments of this magnitude and that we know how to get behind our own players, as well as players from every other country!