Poland’s appetite for success was very high after a reasonably good European Championships in 2016. A quarter final defeat on penalties to the 2016 winners Portugal was followed by a very strong World Cup qualifying campaign that was characterised by goals and attacking football.
When in form, this could arguably be Poland’s best team since the 1980s, however the talented collection of individuals have underwhelmed in Russia with consistently below par performances against sides which they should be more competitive against.
28 goals in ten qualifying games came from of an ingrained 4-2-3-1 system with an element of flexibility permitted. Manager Adam Nawalka experimented with three at the back to increase the fluidity and speed of the side with limited success in friendlies.
Poland’s first group game against Senegal was a disaster, and the 2-1 loss was followed up by another defeat, this time against Colombia who put three past them without reply. After already being dumped out of the tournament, Poland had a chance to salvage some kind of pride against Japan. “We know that we have failed,” said Nawalk on the eve of the fixture.
One major problem for Poland has been getting goals from one of the best strikers on the planet, supposedly. Robert Lewandowski scored one goal at the 2012 Euros, one in the 2016 tournament and has struggled in the latter stages of the Champions League with Bayern Munich.
The Polish forward scored a phenomenal 49 goals in 54 matches before the World Cup, as well as 16 goals in the 18 month qualifying campaign to get Poland to Russia, but has been unable to deliver when his country needed him the most.
“I was alone. I did everything I could,” was his excuse after failing to net against Colombia, he also went on to suggest that Poland had too little quality, but this is not good enough from their captain who was also underwhelming against Japan in perhaps his third and final World Cup match
Bartosz Bereszynski came close to opening the scoring in the first half but saw his header well saved by Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima. Meanwhile, Lewandowski watched on.
As the 29-year-old grew frustrated at his lack of involvement he dropped deeper and deeper to get into the game. This looked good and his technical skills were on show for all to see as the transition to attack became smoother, but it left him in areas where he was useless to the team
On one break, Lewandowksi was well inside his own half as he helped work the ball forward to Kamil Grosicki and Piotr Zielinski could not make a run to meet his low ball into the box. You feel a better striker may have turned the cross in had he not been in his own half.
Poland eventually got their goal which was little more than a souvenir for them to take home. Rafal Kurzawa’s free kick into the box was met by Southampton defender Jan Bednarek who finished well with a side-footed volley. Again, Lewandowski watched on.
Man for man, Lewandowski has scored past much better defences but ran out of ideas against the regimented Japan and Senegal sides.
Real Madrid have had their name long associated with Lewandowski who is contacted to Bayern Munich until 2021, Chelsea are also keen admirers. But, for all his goals in the Bundasliga, Lewandowski has come up short in three international tournaments and might not be the amazing striker we all believe he is.
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