Zibi and the Glory Days of Polish Soccer

Zibi is to Poland what Pele is to Brazil, Diego Maradona is to Argentina, Ferenc Puskas is to Hungary. And, like Puskas, when at the peak of his play, Zibi became a symbol of football behind the Iron Curtain itself. As World Cup 2006 approaches, Zibi quotes, anecdotes and opinions will grow to domination of the Polish sports media. It’s a phenomenon repeated each time Team Poland plays on an international stage, for not only is Zibi now the voice of football in Poland, but also the country’s link to past glory.

Zibi was born Zbigniew Boniek in Bydgoszcz in 1956. He progressed through a lower division at a young age and by twenty he was playing for Poland powerhouse Widzew Lodz, ultimately leading them to back-to-back championships in 1981 and 1982. In 1978, Zibi was drafted to the national team at the tender age of twenty-two in the rebuilding process following Poland’s third-place finish in World Cup 1974.

In 1978, tournament saw the heretofore unknown Boniek get Poland into the second round of pool play with two scores against Mexico. Team Poland did not advance past the semi-finals, but Zibi’s return was inevitable.

And did he return. In one of the most impressive one-man shows in Cup history, Zibi netted a hat trick against Belgium in the first game of tournament play, accounting for all three goals in the 3-0 victory. Though he did not score in the following match against the USSR, he bothered the cool defense of the Soviets with his tenacious attacking style. Disaster then struck, as Zibi was yellow carded for the second time in the tourney last in the USSR game and thus had to sit and watch as mighty Italy took apart the Polish side with an easy 2-0 win. Zibi returned in the consolation game to knock off France and solidify his and his team’s reputation on the international scene.

After taking third in the World Cup and first in the national tournament two years running, what’s next? Zibi joined Juventus in 1982, thus becoming what most consider the first Polish player on the international scene. Teaming with Paolo Rossi, the deadly striker pair bagged the UEFA Cup for Juventus in 1984; Zibi scored the winning goal against Porto in the finals, giving Juventus the 2-1 win. The European Super Cup went to Juventus in 1984, chased by the European Cup in 1985 thanks to Zibi’s two goals.

Zibi moved on to FC Roma in 1986, where he earned the nickname to simplify the moniker nearly unpronounceable to Italian fandom. Behind Zibi, Roma took the Italian Cup that season.

Zibi was named to the Polish national team again in 1986, but the team had aged and lost its luster. Mustering up a single meager goal, Team Poland barely emerged from pool play, only to face annihilation at the hands of Brazil, 4-0. He retired from football altogether soon thereafter.

Boniek took on some coaching duties in Italy, but stayed out of the Polish football scene until the mid 1990s, when he added broadcasting to his curriculum vitae, ensuring his strong presence over the football world he once ruled.

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