Reaction is as obvious as Ukrainian’s superiority on the National Stadium’s pitch on Friday night – disappointment. Do not mind the title, do not look at the agendas – poor performance of Waldemar Fornalik’s team has been rightly criticized by newspapers, experts and fans.
But the defeat was defined by fans as one down to mentality – or rather lack of it. When Poles went through the mixed zone just minutes after the game, the only thing they wanted to talk about is the character that was absent last night. “Maybe we don’t have a team after all?” – asked Marcin Wasilewski, one of the most experienced players in the side that started last night.
“We looked second best over the game. Ukrainians at least looked like they wanted to win” – was the claim of Artur Boruc, who had to take the ball out of the net twice before he could make his first save. He was, to some extent, right. Poles committed only SIX fouls to Ukraine’s TWENTY FIVE – surely that sets the tone to the game that for both nations had an enormous meaning.
Just seven months after Poland and Ukraine went out of Euro 2012 in the group stages, it were the visitors that supposed to be in the crisis, with just three points in the opening games of 2014 World Cup qualifications. New manager and players rotated, Ukraine looked sharper from the start and a side with a plan – contrary to what their rivals had been for most of the night.
Frankly, the nation was hooked again. Poland’s disappointment at defeat against Ukraine proves that the spirit of the Euro 2012 was back yet again, and at least was well documented. Robert Lewandowski has beaten Borussia’s record of scoring in straight eight league games, while Grzegorz Krychowiak scored a winner against PSG. Kuba Błaszczykowski’s and Łukasz Piszczek’s positions at Dortmund are as solid as ever, Artur Boruc’s reputation is growing in the Premier League, while Radosław Majewski has revived his form in recent weeks for Nottingham Forest. Kamil Glik is fans’ favourite at Torino as well, showing that most of the starting eleven at least had stabilized positions at their clubs. No reason not to trust them then.
They failed even before Robert Lewandowski had his first sight of the ball – Boenisch was turned inside by Yarmolenko on Poland’s left side, continued not bothered into the box before scoring the opener. Ukraine’s second was scored after Kamil Glik was caught few yards of his marker, allowing him to control the ball and turn, before Łukasik made mistimed tackle and even more space was created for Gusev to score. Third was a combination of uncertainty and basic mistakes from hosts back four – Glik and Piszczek caught too deep with their line, Wasilewski too slow to catch the player he tried to tackle.
But again, words on motivation should not be taken seriously. There should be a huge doubt over how Poland was tactically prepared to the game, how big knowledge they had of their rivals. Opening minuted proved that the focus levels were on the lowest possible point, but Ukraine never had it so easy on international level to move as they usually do – the research was wrong or not good enough, with every bad scenario happening in front of fans’ eyes.
“Our transition from attack to defence was tragic tonight” – said Kuba Błaszczykowski, whose only pleasant moment came before the game, when he was congratulated on his 60th appearance for Poland. One would wonder where he was in the second half, when Poland needed him the most. Half-time change from Fornalik – quite desperately looking substitution of late Ekstraklasa call-up Jakub Kosecki for anonymous Maciej Rybus – proved to be pointless or even adding to Poland’s chaotic performance. Obraniak’s arrival looked way too late, while Majewski was subbed when he finally looked settled in the battle. It almost looked like every decision Waldemar Fornalik made, turned against him.
There is, however, some right in what Marcin Wasilewski has said about lack of understanding in the team – Robert Lewandowski, one of the younger generation that wants to be as influential as possible, asked whether it is fault of being over-motivated before the game. When Boruc and Wasilewski took to the stage after the game, their claim was much more critical of the players themselves, not coaching staff. An echo to how Lewandowski wanted to “welcome and try to introduce” Fornalik to the national team, perhaps?
Lewandowski went further that way – he claimed that the performance was not as bad as media show it, being the only player who overcame the ban Fornalik put on his team after Friday loss. Players were supposed not to leave their hotel but he gave the interview for news channel anyway, while Artur Boruc was not allowed to visit Sunday’s football show – although being one of the chosen ones for the press conference on the same day.
This squad is broken as it was straight after Euro defeat. Now, with another Polish head coach in charge, there is little difference to how embarrassing second-half performance was against Czech Republic and Ukraine. Sadly, it seems that the players were honest with fans only after the game and definitely not with their performances. The astonishment at the difference between their “club and country” levels is only growing and Waldemar Fornalik is unlikely to deliver the answer, nor solution. While the country looks united in critique, team is as divided as it was – or even more.