By Ryan Hubbard in Warsaw
Arkadiusz Milik once again turned Poland’s goal hero, with a strike fifteen minutes from time salvaging Poland’s unbeaten start to the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. In an up-and-down, and occasionally tempestuous affair, his left-footed strike ensured a 2-2 draw, with the Poles topping Group D on goal difference.
Poland boss Adam Nawałka made three changes to the line-up which defeated Germany on Saturday, with Artur Jędrzejczyk, Waldemar Sobota and Krzysztof Mączyński coming in for Jakub Wawrzyniak, Maciej Rybus and Tomasz Jodłowiec. Scotland boss Gordon Strachan also made changes, with Steven Whittaker and Gordon Greer making the starting eleven after sitting on the bench against Georgia.
Despite assurances pre-match from Nawałka that his side still had plenty left in the tank following their shock win against Germany, Poland started the game sluggishly, with stray passes and no fluency to their attacking play. But despite this, it was they who took an early lead.
As the Scottish defence failed to clear a speculative punt, the ball fell to Mączyński. He fired a low shot to David Marshall’s left, which cannoned off the post before settling in the net.
It didn’t however take long for the visitors to equalise, as Ikechi Anya fired a cross across the box, and as Łukasz Szukała failed to get a touch on it, Shaun Maloney was there to fire past Wojciech Szczęsny.
While the Poles struggled to get into gear, and Scotland edged the possession stats, it was the home side who created the better chances as the half progressed. Waldemar Sobota was unable to get on the end of a Kamil Grosicki cross, while Lewandowski found himself in a similar situation after Sobota’s ball into the box.
Still showing the effects of Saturday’s showing, there were more concerns over Lewandowski when Scotland defender Greer’s studs-up challenge forced him temporarily from the field. Kamil Glik also needed treatment, as well as a change of shirt, after he was caught by Steven Fletcher’s elbow. While both were able to continue, the home side were furious with the Spanish referee that both went unpunished.
Along with the second half whistle came a turn of pace in the game, as Poland started with a number of quick attacks, but were thwarted by the Scottish defence. They were made to pay for their wasted chances just before the hour-mark, as a James Morrison free-kick swung into the box, and escaping Łukasz Piszczek, Everton’s Steven Naismith got the slightest touch to divert it inside of Szczęsny’s post.
After going behind, Nawałka received the response he would expect from his side, as steadily their momentum increased, putting pressure on the visitors. But it was the introduction of Sebastian Mila, scorer of the second against Germany, which was the catalyst for their strong finish to the game.
Milik headed a Sobota cross over the bar, while good interchanging play between Mila and Kamil Grosicki resulted in the latter firing over from a tight angle. After largely being kept quiet, Milik then began to get even more involved in the game, drilling a low cross across the box which Lewandowski failed to connect with, before having a second attempt half-cleared, allowing Mączyński to blaze over the bar.
However the increased pressure eventually found reward with just a quarter of an hour remaining. The impressive Jędrzejczyk controlled a long diagonal ball before playing a short through ball to the onrushing Milik. The Ajax hitman then took a touch before smashing a left-footed effort past the helpless Marshall.
Poland didn’t stop there, and on another day could have found a winner. Lewandowski called Marshall into action once more, while a Krychowiak header bounced into the ground and over the bar. The rejuvenated Mila then rounded one, and nutmegged another, before playing an inch perfect pass to Grosicki. The Stade Rennes winger smashed his effort against the Scottish post, with Mila unable to hit the target on the rebound.
After such a heroic effort against the Germans, it was always going to be a struggle for the Poles to come into this clash at 100%, but with a return of four points from their two games, and the fact that they still remain unbeaten in Group D, they will remain optimistic of qualification even at this early stage.
Adam Nawałka is working on a dream of progressing through a successful qualifying campaign for the first time since 2008. So far, there is nothing to suggest that this dream can’t become a reality.
Poland – Scotland 2:2 (1:1)
Mączyński 11′, Milik 76′ – Maloney 17′, Naismith 56′
Szczęsny – Piszczek, Glik, Szukała, Jędrzejczyk – Grosicki (Zyro 89′), Krychowiak, Mączyński, Sobota (Mila 62′) – Milik, Lewandowski (c).
Marshall – Hutton, R. Martin, Greer, Whittaker – Brown (c), Morrison, Maloney – Naismith (D. Fletcher 71′), Anya, S. Fletcher (Martin 71′).
Krychowiak 59′, Mila 83′ – Greer 85′