As the team was applauded by relentless thousands of fans in Wroclaw, the disbelief shared by those on the pitch and on the stands could be felt in the air. In the moment Franciszek Smuda took his seat at the press conference, with his hands shaking from nerves and failure, he knew this is over. Three games defined his whole three-year long tenure and the result of it is national struggle to understand how such team could let this chance slip away.
Smuda couldn't believe it too. He hinted that his players never stick to the plan for the second half that was described during the break, while his decisions were rightly put under critique - especially sticking to Rafał Murawski and subbing Eugen Polanski, who was playing much better than Lech Poznan's captain.
Never should we look at what happened during these three games - all the mistakes, failures, misunderstandings come from Smuda's disastrous behavior towards his critics, how stubborn he was to try and analyze what people were saying to him.
But ultimately, it was his best team that failed him the most. He went with those that did well enough against Russia, and threw those that media preferred but it never worked. Team had only plan for twenty minutes, possibly they had also enough power in their legs to play high-tempo game for that much, and then we could see how naked, bare naked were Smuda's ideas. Hit them early, then defend.
Michal Bilek is rightly criticized by the Czech press for the way they qualified but even with all his mistakes, he could change the team, adapt when it was needed, when the leader was out, when the circumstances were against his side. As Wojciech Kowalczyk said, fifteen teams have come to the tournament with managers and only one side failed to have a leader on the sidelines. Poland.
However tough the truth is to accept now, we have to look at facts rather than seek easy excuses - Smuda promised to deliver a passing team, different to what we have seen. He changed his mind and promised one defending well and counter attacking at pace and with quality - he failed to give him the strength to do so for more than twenty minutes.
Facts are against him and there is nothing, absolutely nothing that could defend him. The potential was left unused, the progress was not made, the idea was not there. Yes, Kowalczyk was eventually right - Poland was the one team without a manager.
Brutal truth may hurt as much as disastrous Euro performance, with only glimpses of hope for the better times, but Smuda should have claims only to himself - after all, he was the one who never kept his word, having luck that turned into spectacular defeat.
Greeks were better, Russian too and Czechs were able to put it into goals. So easy was Polish team to read it, prepare against it and torn it apart, that we leave the competition as one of the worst teams. Smuda entered the tournament with a strong vow to show true class, but the true was similar to the place Poland occupies in the FIFA ranks.
Poorest passing stats, most often fouling players, slow midfield, one unable to keep up with the pace of wingers and attackers. Was this the maximum he could get out of this team? Surely not, after all they can play and their club seasons were mostly satisfying at least. Will the players be able to take part of the blame?
They may not exactly feel they didn't do enough on the pitch during 270 minutes they had on Euro 2012, but for sure, they may not be satisfied with the way they put their trust in Smuda. Their influence on the team, shape and tactics and even names was higher than it should in any national team, but the alarm should be raised earlier. As we know it now, the price of Smuda's tenure was high - though Beenhakker left in similarly disastrous manner, his way of managing was at least giving hints at development.
If Smuda failed to implement basics such as fitness, defensive shape, responsibilities and set pieces, then there is a lot more to do for whoever comes next, than ex-Poland manager had to repair once he took over three years ago.