By Ryan Hubbard
As Jakub Błaszczykowski tucked home the loose ball in the final minute of added time, the cheer which erupted around Warsaw’s Stadion Narodowy was deafening. A 2-1 victory against Montenegro would be enough to keep Poland in the hunt for a spot at next year’s World Cup, and also allow coach Waldemar Fornalik a little breathing room after the numerous calls for his head.
However it simply wasn’t to be. Before Poland captain Kuba had even thought about taking a shot at goal, substitute Adrian Mierzejewski had strayed behind the goalkeeper and into an offside position. Whilst Błaszczykowski ran to the corner flag being mobbed by his teammates, Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers was busy discussing the action with his assistant, who after a couple of poor decisions finally got one right – just at the wrong time for Poland.
But despite the result, it was a competent, and at times a strong performance from the Poland team. Even when they went one-nil down to Dejan Damjanović’s twelfth-minute strike, the Białe-Orły were the stronger, more dangerous team. With possession creeping close to 75% in the early stages, it was doing something with the ball around the box which Fornalik’s side was having trouble with.
Thankfully for Poland, Robert Lewandowski was finally returning to his best – something the national team hasn’t seen for a long time – his last really strong game being the Euro 2012 opener against Greece. Behind for just four minutes, Lewy received the ball in an advanced position, muscled out two Montenegrin defenders, and then proceeded to fire a thunderbolt past Mladen Božović. Scoring just two penalties against San Marino since that header in June 2012, the relief on Lewandowski’s face was almost audible – the striker celebrating by cupping his ears, in response to being booed by the fans against Denmark last month.
It could have been so much better for Poland before the first half ended too. Club Brugge’s new signing Waldemar Sobota forced a good save from
Božović before his chipped follow-up went agonisingly wide, whilst Dortmund striker Lewy also called the keeper into action.
Whilst the second half wasn’t as one-sided as the first, the hosts were aggrieved when Sobota was brought down in the box – the referee’s whistle only signalling an offside decision. Replays showed that the winger had managed to stay onside, and Montenegro were lucky to escape.
Despite Poland’s dominance, the visitors were having the more clear-cut chances. Defensive lapses allowed both Damjanović to fire well-over with the goal in sight, and Vukčević to completely miscue an effort when it looked easier to score.
Fornalik’s substitutions did little-or-nothing to help the cause either. Whilst Wawrzyniak’s first-half switch for Sebastian Boenisch was forced, neither Trabzonspor midfielder Mierzejewski or Sampdoria winger Paweł Wszołek, on for Zieliński and Sobota, were unable to stamp any authority on the game – the introduction of Wszołek causing the biggest stir, with the former Polonia Warsaw man failing to yet make an appearance since his summer move to Italy.
With the game petering out, the last-gasp dramatics looked to have sealed an important three points. Alas it wasn’t to be, and with progression to Brazil 2014 dependant on others’ results, Poland must now start to look towards qualification for Euro 2016.
Whilst the disallowed goal will ultimately be remembered as the reason for Poland’s failure to qualify, it was the draws in Podgorica and Chisinau, and the home loss to Ukraine which have cost Fornalik’s side. Now with qualification merely a pipe-dream, the only question left to ask is “Who will be the coach’s replacement when his contract is inevitably terminated at the end of the campaign?”.
Poland – Montenegro 1:1 (1:1)
Lewandowski 16′ – Damjanović 12′
Boruc, Jędrzejczyk, Glik, Szukała, Wawrzyniak (Boenisch 27′), Krychowiak, Błaszczykowski, Zieliński (Mierzejewski 75′), Klich, Sobota (Wszołek 62′), Lewandowski.
M Božović, Baša, Džudović, V Božović, Zverotić, Savić, Bošković, Drinčić, Krkotić (Vukčević 46′), Vučinić (Kasalica 36′), Damjanović (Bećiraj 85′).
Szukała 90+1′, Mierzejewski 90+4′ – V Božović 18′, Vučinić 33′, Kasalica 43′, Džudović 53′.
Referee: B Kuipers (NED)
Assistants: S van Roekel (NED), E Zeinstra (NED)
Fourth Official: P van Boekel (NED)