Poland’s hopes of reaching the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were given a massive dent in Warsaw’s Stadion Narodowy, as a poor all-round performance ensured that they were soundly beaten by fellow Euro 2012 hosts Ukraine.
With all talk before the game of Ludovic Obraniak’s omission in place of Nottingham Forest midfielder Radosław Majewski, many were hoping to see an improved attacking performance from Waldemar Fornalik’s men. But with less than two minutes on the clock, they were already under pressure – with Andriy Yarmalenko’s stunning strike silencing the home crowd. In an almost carbon copy of Jakub Błaszczykowski’s Euro 2012 strike against Russia, the Dynamo Kyiv attacker received the ball on the edge of the box, cut inside, and fired an unstoppable drive past Artur Boruc in the Poland goal.
As if going behind so early wasn’t bad enough, things got much worse for the White Eagles just five minutes later, when Yarmalenko’s Kyiv team-mate Oleg Husyev doubled the Yellow-Blue lead with another strike from the edge of the box – this time trickling into the net on Boruc’s right-hand side.
Despite the visitors looking more dangerous, the hosts began to find some sort of attacking rhythm. But whilst a Lewandowski header had been the closest that Poland had previously gone, it was a combination of his two Dortmund team-mates who dragged the home side into the game. Good work from Terek Grozny’s Maciej Rybus allowed Jakub Błaszczykowski room to advance. His low, pulled back cross found Łukasz Piszczek, who was able to stab the ball past the outstretched arm of Andriy Pyatov.
For the rest of the half it was Poland who dominated possession, but mostly were unable to create any meaningful chances. When they did get within sight of goal, both Lewandowski and Błaszczykowski were unable to test Pyatov, whilst the Shakhtar keeper did well to keep out efforts from both Rybus and Sebastian Boenisch.
But looking to go into the half-time break on level terms, Poland were dealt a further blow on the stroke of half-time. Allowed too much time and space by the Polish back-line, Roman Zozulya got ahead of Piszczek to volley past Boruc from just eight yards.
With the break an ideal time for Poland to get their act together, it only served to make them worse off. Despite still dominating possession, the Polish attack was ineffective, and it was the visitors who created the better chances – and possibly should have put the game beyond doubt much earlier. When Poland finally did create something meaningful, it was through link-up play between Lewandowski and the newly-introduced Ludovic Obraniak – a combination which hasn’t clicked since long before Euro 2012. But with Obraniak’s effort well blocked by Pyatov, the hosts’ quickly tailed off, and Ukraine finished the stronger side – only poor finishing and Artur Boruc keeping the score at three.
Despite his inability to change proceedings on the pitch, Waldemar Fornalik told journalists after the game that he knew where the problem lie.
“The game did not set up well for us. The opening seven minutes decided the game, and the third goal killed us… With a team like Ukraine we created good chances, but they were more aggressive.”
Whilst San Marino on Tuesday will not provide the same threat as Friday’s opponents, Fornalik knows that nothing less than a comprehensive win in front of a baying Warsaw crowd will be satisfactory as Poland attempt to at least put up some fight in Group H. But maybe after this evening, it will still be too little, too late.
Poland – Ukraine 1:3 (1:3)
Piszczek 17′ – Yarmalenko 2′, Husyev 7′, Zozulya 44′
Poland: Boruc – Piszczek, Glik, Wasilewski, Boenisch – Krychowiak, Łukasik (Obraniak 58′) – Błaszczykowski, Majewski (Teodorczyk 75′), Rybus (Kosecki 46′) – Lewandowski
Ukraine: Pyatov – Fedetskiy, Khacheridi, Kucher, Shevchuk – Rotan, Stepanenko (Tymoshchuk 59′) – Husyev (Morozyuk 90+3′), Garmash (Bezus 90+2′), Yarmolenko – Zozulya
Łukasik 43′ – Rotan 17′ Garmash 33′, Stepanenko 45+1′, Tymoshchuk 87′
Referee: Pavel Kralovec (Czech Rep.)