John Williams has already branded Wisla Krakow (Biala Gwiazda- White Star)as the potential 'dark-horses` of Group E and it is easy to see why.
Whereas their name doesn`t stir the same successful connotations as maybe Feyenoord does it isn`t fair to dismiss this side out of hand.
When Rovers travel to Poland to compete in a competitive fixture for the second time in their history, they will be arriving during the month that Wisla will be celebrating exactly 100 years as a professional football team.
They were formed in 1906 by a Dr. Tadeusz Konczyński. He put together a tournament for the city involving four teams. They would later merge to produce Wisla Krakow, although they have been re-named on more than one occasion during their 100 years. During two separate periods, 1906-1945 and 1990-1997 they were known as Wisła Towarzystwo Sportowe.
The team, from an area more notorious for its use during World War Two by Nazi Germany continues to find themselves embroiled in a bitter dispute between local rivals Cracovia. Efforts have been made on both sides to resolve long-standing issues deriving from both World Wars in a bid to end the fighting and rioting, which has at times produced fatalities.
Rovers can expect a hostile reception in the fixture, not because of any political or historical issues but due to the nature of Wisla`s stadium. It is an open-plan 16,072 all-seat coliseum, which will be packed full of fervent supporters urging their gladiators to attack amidst a sea of red flags, shirts and flares.
Many teams have traveled there this season and left with nothing. They are a formidable force at home, yet to concede a league goal at the Reymonta (which was destroyed during World War One only to be re-built a few years later). In fact their only goal conceded at home came in the last round of the UEFA Cup and would lead to their only defeat of the season. They only managed to scrape through the first round after over-turning their first leg home deficit by scoring in the 93rd minute through Nikola Mijailovic`s free-kick and Mauro Cantoro`s extra-time winner.
So what can we expect from Wisla Krakow as a team?
Well they currently sit in third place in the Orange Ekstraklasa with 17 points from their opening 9 games. Having narrowly missed out on the championship to Legia Warsaw (who Rovers played in 1995, losing 1-0 in Warsaw and drawing 0-0 at Ewood) last season, they are looking to claim their twelfth title in their history.
They are without a doubt Poland`s most successful club in the twenty-first century, winning the top league four times since the turn of the Millenium.
However, like Rovers they have had their ups-and-downs, twice being relegated from the top division.
Their main problem at the moment though is scoring goals. Only once this season have they registered three times in a single match, and they ended up drawing it. Their inability to kill teams off certainly appears to be their Achilles Heel. They have drawn five of their nine league fixtures.
Their last fixture was against title rivals Legia Warsaw (who are languishing in the bottom half of the table at the moment) which ended 1-1.
They are a solid team who possess a number of regular Polish internationals. Two players in particular to look out for are twin brothers Piotr and Pawel Brozek. Still relatively young at 23 years old, the players are expected to have big futures ahead of them. Pawel, who plays up-front, has already been capped seven times by the Polish national side.
Pawel plays a lot like Bellamy did last season. He is quick, good with the ball at his feet and isn`t afraid to shoot from distance. However, his explosive finishing has deserted him in recent weeks as his brother, Piotr leads the goal tally. A lot of discontent is simmering amongst the clubs supporters due to the club`s lack of fire-power.
A couple of other names that may be familiar are Jacob Burns, the former Leeds United and New Zealand international midfield player and Marcin Baszczynski, a resolute defender who had a trial with West Ham United in January of this year.
As their results suggest they pride themselves on starving the opposition of chances and looking to exploit the flair from their two Brazilians and the Brozek brothers to create scoring positions of their own.
Rovers will be walking into a tight game against a team with years of European experience so I wouldn`t be surprised to see Hughes deploy the five-man midfield again in a bid to win the battle in the centre of the pitch, which will prove to be the deciding factor.
Additionally, Wisla have been struck with the bad news that two of their key players, Polish centre-back Arkadiusz Glowacki and Jacob Burns, have been sidelined through injury. The loss of Glowacki will be particularly damaging as the 27 year old is considered a lynchpin of their defence. He manages to rally his troops and lead them in a confident and commanding manner that befitted Lech Walesca, the leader of the Polish nationalist movement, Solidarnosc.
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