Euro 2016

Gladiator 'Kuba' gets praise from Crowe

Jakub Blaszczykowski has been vital for Poland so far, scoring the winning goal to book their place in the last 16.
Jakub Blaszczykowski has been vital for Poland so far, scoring the winning goal to book their place in the last 16.

WARSAW • Poland's gladiatorial displays at Euro 2016 have attracted a new fan with star actor Russell Crowe jumping on the bandwagon, as Jakub "Kuba" Blaszczykowski booked their place in the knockout stages for the first time by blasting home in a 1-0 win over Ukraine.

"Kuba!! Well done Poland. More hard work to come. Do boju Polska!!" the Oscar winner reacted on Twitter, urging "Poland, go to battle!!" in a message that has attracted thousands of retweets and likes.

While the 30-year-old midfielder Blaszczykowski has had a stellar career with German giants Borussia Dortmund on the pitch, his life off it has been anything but easy.

Born in the southern city of Czestochowa - more known for its Black Madonna icon that is reputed to work miracles - his life was marked by tragedy at the age of 11.

His mother died in his arms, stabbed by his father during a domestic dispute. He was then brought up by his grandmother with help from his brother.

However, it was Blaszczykowski's uncle, Jerzy Brzeczek, captain of Poland's silver medal-winning team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, who helped him get focused on football and onto the pitch for good.

"It took years before I stopped thinking about it all, with my heart full of hate," Blaszczykowski said in an interview that came out alongside his autobiography last year.

"Whatever happens in your life and whatever obstacles you encounter, the important thing is to never give up."

Each time he scores a goal, "Kuba" gazes up to the sky.

"It's a symbolic gesture to thank my mum, who always believed in me," says Blaszczykowski, now a married father of two.

During Poland's first Euro 2016 match against Northern Ireland, he teed up Arkadiusz Milik for the winning goal.

And, after his deed against Ukraine, Poles and Crowe are hoping he can make the most of a wildly open draw in France to fire Poland to a first-ever major tournament win.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'Gladiator 'Kuba' gets praise from Crowe'. Print Edition | Subscribe