By Ryan Hubbard at Wembley
The script was set, the actors briefed. The 1973 footage was dug out from TV vaults all over the world. But as hard as they tried, as much as they wanted, Waldemar Fornalik’s men just didn’t have it in them. As Jan Tomaszewski watched on from the Wembley stands, he remains safe in the knowledge that it is his legend which will live on for another few years at least.
But whilst we are left to reflect on what might have been, all-in-all, it was a strong, if frustrating performance from Poland. With a number of opportunities created on the counter attack, so often the final ball proved to be Poland’s downfall. And when the Polish midfield did finally get to play that killer pass, a combination of poor finishing and last-gasp defending prevented them from taking a lead which, at points in the game you could argue wasn’t entirely undeserved.
However the Białe-Orły’s downfall, as so often has proven to be the case in this campaign, came in the full-back position. An uneasy display from Poland’s ad-hoc left-back Grzegorz Wojtkowiak, and Piotr Celeban handing Leighton Baines the free run of the England left-side, meant that despite all of Poland’s best chances, a home victory was just a matter of waiting.
Whilst in the early parts, Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Błaszczykowski looked to be at their Bundesliga best, and both Waldemar Sobota and Adrian Mierzejewski were out to impress, numerous chances were squandered – notably by Lewandowski. However with Sobota’s impressive vision looking to provide a spark, there was always a hope that Poland could snatch the opener.
As the first half progressed, England stepped up the tempo, and the Poles just couldn’t keep up. Wojciech Szczęsny was forced into a couple of good stops, and his crossbar was also called into action, signalling England’s dominance. But despite seeing less of the ball, Poland carried on carving chances. Even when Wayne Rooney headed past the Arsenal stopper from an unmarked Baines cross just before the break, the 18,000 Polish fans – plus the many more tucked in amongst the home support – felt like they had a chance to spoil the party.
Though the sucker punch could have deflated Fornalik’s men, they came out fighting early in the second half too, with many more chances falling by the wayside. But even with the introduction of Piotr Zieliński, Mateusz Klich and Sławomir Peszko to freshen up the Polish attack, the breakthrough couldn’t be found. And when they piled forward in desperate search for their equaliser, England inevitably took advantage with a couple of minutes to spare – captain Steven Gerrard ensuring both the Three Lions’ qualification for Brazil, and that the performance of Kazimierz Górski’s side 40 years ago will be dragged up when the two sides inevitably meet in the near future.
Now without a summer tournament to occupy attentions, thoughts tun to the almost certain dismissal of Waldemar Fornalik and his potential replacement. According to a number of reports, Górnik Zabrze boss Adam Nawałka is the frontrunner; but although more of a disciplinarian than his former Silesian rival Fornalik, handling the likes of Adam Danch and Prejuce Nakoulma is very different from the larger egos of Lewandowski and Błaszczykowski.
Whilst Fornalik’s tenure will be judged as a failure, he shouldn’t take all of the blame for Poland’s failure to qualify. On too many occasions key players failed to show up; and if the draws against Montenegro and Moldova had swung in Poland’s favour as they should have, rather than his impending sacking, we instead may have been talking about the 23 players which would be on their way to Brazil.
Poland coach Waldemar Fornalik:
“Congratulations to England for qualifying. We tried to do our best to play as a unit and as a team. But when you look at the way the goals were scored, the perception of the game may have been very different.”
Asked about poor performances during qualifying:
“I disagree with that assessment – It’s points that count, not style. It’s a matter of opinion, and depends what perspective you look at it from. You can play badly and win points, and you can also play well and lose. Football is a game of opinion.
“I believe that we have proven we can play good football; we just need to score more goals. Now is not the time or place to draw conclusions. No team in Europe have played two games away against quality teams like Ukraine and England.”
On players such as Klich and Zieliński being the future of the national team:
“At the moment, Klich is in better form than Zieliński, who has not been playing for his club (Udinese). But our young players have great potential, and I hope that they are the future of the national team.”
Summary of the qualifying campaign:
“It could be a short answer. Just like the match tonight, we created good chances but didn’t take them. In general we had a very good autumn, but the first game against Ukraine was the worst – from then we were always chasing points.”
England 2:0 Poland (1:0) – Wembley Stadium, London
Rooney 41′, Gerrard 88′
Joe Hart – Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines – Michael Carrick (Frank Lampard 71′), Steven Gerrard © – Andros Townsend (James Milner 86′), Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck – Daniel Sturridge (Jack Wilshere 82′).
Coach: Roy Hodgson
Wojciech Szczęsny – Piotr Celeban, Artur Jędrzejczyk, Kamil Glik, Grzegorz Wojtkowiak – Grzegorz Krychowiak, Mariusz Lewandowski (Mateusz Klich 46′) – Jakub Błaszczykowski ©, Adrian Mierzejewski (Piotr Zieliński 76′), Waldemar Sobota (Sławomir Peszko 65′) – Robert Lewandowski.
Coach: Waldemar Fornalik
Yellow Cards: Lampard 76′, Rooney 80′ – Jędrzejczyk 77′
Referee: Damir Skomina (SVN)