If offered a point before the game, many Poles would have taken it. After Tuesday night’s debacle in the rain, many were just happy to see the game played at all. With the doors of Warsaw’s Stadion Narodowy now closed, it will be the visitors who head back to England feeling lucky to have escaped with something, even after leading for 40 minutes.
Truth be told, Poland could have won this game. However when a first-half Robert Lewandowski shot eventually fluttered out for a throw-in, you could sense that the Polish attack was going to have another off day – like on Friday against South Africa.
Chances for Kamil Grosicki, Łukasz Piszczek and Paweł Wszołek also fell by the wayside before England took the lead with their first real half-chance. Steven Gerrard’s corner just after the half-an-hour mark was bundled in by a combination of Wayne Rooney’s head and shoulder, leaving his marker Piszczek stranded. But even with a 1-0 lead England looked sluggish, and Poland continued to create more chances on the counter-attack.
With the half-time whistle, came a sense of pessimism amongst many Polish fans. Whilst they had ran the majority of the game so far, Poland are notoriously known for not being able to keep up the tenacity; and with the Stadion Narodowy’s roof closed following Tuesday’s shambles, many looked towards their second-half capitulation in the Euro 2012 opener against Greece. However, under Waldemar Fornalik, a new Polish national team is beginning to emerge – a youthful, fitter, and more focused one. Any worries that they wouldn’t keep up the pace were quickly extinguished as both Ludovic Obraniak and Jakub Wawrzyniak went close from distance.
Whilst England were given a few half-chances of their own, Poland continued to terrorise their guests – both Piszczek and Obraniak going close to the equaliser. And then, with eighteen minutes left on the clock, justice was done.
A beautifully weighted corner kick from Bordeaux’s Obraniak was met by the head of centre-back Kamil Glik. With Joe Hart flapping off of his line, there was only one possible outcome – and the stadium was sent into raptures. As 24-year old Glik ran to celebrate his second international goal, that sense of optimism finally returned. Poland could actually go on the win this…
However, with a switch of formation, and a change of tactics, it seemed that Waldemar Fornalik’s men were happy to settle with a point. Although the impressive Glik went close again with a header, time quickly ran out for the hosts.
With five points from three games so far, the White Eagles will now feel that they have a great chance of making it to Brazil in two years’ time. Taking on the group favourites, and making them look decidedly average, the squad will now look towards March’s games against both Ukraine and San Marino feeling that six points isn’t out of the question.
After a nervy performance in Wrocław against Moldova, there was a real worry that Poland wouldn’t be able to step it up for yesterday’s big game. But even after being made to wait an extra twenty hours for kick-off, there was no doubting that the team were up for it. After a rousing performance of Mazurek Dąbrowskiego – including some expletives thrown in at the climax, for good measure by captain Marcin Wasilewski – the home side looked fired up from the beginning.
A long way from Franciszek Smuda’s side, which whimpered out of their own Euro 2012 party just four months ago; coach Fornalik has established his own vision for his national team, and he already looks to be reaping the benefits all over the field.
He may have trouble retaining his place at PSV Eindhoven, but confident performance after confident performance from goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń has left many wondering if Arsenal stopper Wojciech Szczęsny will be able to regain his spot once he returns from injury.
With the Polish defence an area of little confidence over the past decade-or-so, the current crop have begun to earn many plaudits – with yesterday’s pairing of Glik and Wasilewski comfortably taking care of Rooney and Defoe with little problem. Even in reserve, Poland can look towards Damian Perquis – who gave a great display against South Africa – to slot comfortably into the squad.
Fornalik has also changed from Smuda’s views on the defensive midfield, and on early impressions it is much for the better. Bar the ever-solid Eugen Polański, Fornalik has despatched of Dariusz Dudka, Rafał Murawski and Adam Matuszczyk; instead opting for the younger Ariel Borysiuk and Grzegorz Krychowiak. Although Murawski was called upon temporarily when Polański left the squad for personal reasons, it’s likely that he isn’t in the coach’s long-term plans. And with Krychowiak putting in a first-class performance alongside Polański against England, he looks almost certain to be one of Fornalik’s first choices for the foreseeable future.
Many were also wondering how the national team would cope without captain Jakub Błaszczykowski; and whilst youngster Paweł Wszołek may have not had as much impact as Kuba, Poland’s attacks weren’t as lop-sided as usual. With Jakub Wawrzyniak joining in attack from a full-back position, there were times when the left side were just as threatening as the right.
Sivasspor midfielder Kamil Grosicki also staked his claim for a place in future Poland line-ups with an impressive display. Although spurning a couple of chances, his positioning, tenacity, and link-up play with Piszczek and Lewandowski give him a great chance of starting for the Białe-Orły, even after Kuba returns.
Whilst there were many positives to come out of the game against England, there were also some concerns that will need to be taken care of inside the Polish squad. Team morale may be on a high after their performance, but squad harmony could be something to easily break that.
Since becoming a national team regular, French-born Ludovic Obraniak has always seemed an outsider amongst the squad. Having still failed to learn Polish to a decent standard, it’s very easy to imagine that he finds it difficult to bond with his team-mates – and this is most noticeable with the Dortmund trio of Lewandowski, Błaszczykowski and Piszczek.
Following his sending off in the opening qualifier against Montenegro, Obraniak was openly criticised by captain Kuba; and even during the European Championships, there was talk of his ostracization from the squad. At times last night, you could almost see this manifesting itself on the pitch.
At numerous times, both Piszczek and Lewandowski would receive the ball in dangerous areas; but although Obraniak would clearly make himself available in open spaces, the two Dortmund players would seemingly prefer to either look for another pass, play it amongst themselves, or take the England back-line on alone. With Poland’s front line struggling for goals as it is, excluding Obraniak from the attacking play will only serve to make things harder.
Also a concern for Fornalik, is Lewandowski’s lack of potency in front of goal whilst wearing the White Eagle on his chest. Since his last Poland strike – the Euro 2012 opener against Greece – Lewy has now made it almost six-and-a-half hours without an goal at international level. Although some have questioned his motivation for his country at times, his effort was clearly there against England – although the finished product wasn’t.
If Poland really want to continue their good start to the campaign, they will need to get Lewy, and the rest of their attack, firing on all cylinders. The next three qualifiers – at home to Ukraine and San Marino, and away at Moldova – should be the games to do this. Failure to take maximum points could leave them relying on others to do them favours by the time they meet the Three Lions again, this time next year, in their final group game.