Hart ready to renew his duel with Lewandowski


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The Independent Football

No England player can expect a greater contrast between the two faces of the current World Cup double-header than the goalkeeper Joe Hart.

His touches of the ball in Friday's 5-0 romp could be counted in single figures and were owed almost exclusively to kind colleagues keeping him awake with an occasional back-pass. San Marino managed one shot, woefully wide, to England's 33 and no corners to the home team's 17.

Poland, meanwhile, may have been unimpressive in defeating South Africa 1-0 in a friendly match, but it hardly takes a leap of imagination to envisage a very different sort of challenge for England's defensive unit on Tuesday.

For one thing, there is Robert Lewandowski. Left out of the South Africa game, the Borussia Dortmund striker is nevertheless known to Hart, who has already faced him once this season in one of the great duels between attacker and goalkeeper.

"Joe Hart saved us from an incredible defeat," Manchester City's manager Roberto Mancini said after that 1-1 draw in the Champions' League. Hart, who pushed Lewandowski's best effort on to the bar for one of his half-dozen outstanding saves, said: "I hope it won't be any different on Tuesday. Hopefully it won't be as open as the last time I played against him. It is going to be a tough game.

"They were very unlucky in a tough group [at the European Championships] and I thought they did well. They have got some talented players and, with the belief in Polish football at the moment, it will be exciting."

Hart can expect changes in front of him, with full-backs Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole, plus his City colleague Joleon Lescott all likely to return.

Of those dropping out it would be hardest on Leighton Baines, who has found himself for some time now in that most unpromising of positions, England's reserve left-back. Kenny Sansom monopolised the position in the 1980s, playing 86 times; Stuart Pearce took over and won 78 caps; and since Cole made the first of his 98 appearances, it has been difficult for anyone else to get a look-in. Wayne Bridge dutifully tagged along for three tournament finals without starting a game and eventually gave up.

Now Baines, ever reliable for Everton, is the deputy relying on an occasional injury or rest for the regular occupant. "My form at the moment doesn't feel too different to what it has been over the last couple of years," said Baines. "All I can do is play as well as I can for Everton."

He appears resigned to losing his place on Tuesday, but sportingly does not hold it against Cole who, like Steven Gerrard, will receive his 99th cap. "He has deserved every one of them and hopefully he will reach the 100 mark because he deserves it," said Baines. "Ashley is a terrific player, but in the games I've played I've shown I can come in and do a job as well. It's natural to want more. Everyone wants to play, so getting the games recently has been nice."

Cole, like a number of senior players, sat out the friendly against Italy in August and then had to withdraw from last month's games against Moldova and Ukraine because of an ankle injury suffered in Chelsea's European Super Cup defeat by Atletico Madrid. He was charged by the Football Association over a foolish tweet about his part in providing evidence for John Terry's racism case and there was speculation that he would be dropped by England as a result. In the event, Cole was merely rested for San Marino and now seems certain to return.

Baines was given virtually nothing to do defensively on Friday and enjoyed himself going forward, which he did with greater success than Johnson's deputy, Kyle Walker, on the other flank. Of the Poland game, he said: "It is completely different. We know that they are a much better side, with good players. We've spent a good bit of time out there in the Euros and it is a passionate place for football."