With a first competitive defeat for boss Adam Nawałka, Poland fell from the summit of Group D, as a resurgent German side put them to the sword to emerge from Frankfurt’s Commerzbank Arena as comfortable 3-1 victors.
With numerous pre-game narratives focused on the infamous “Water Game” during the 1974 World Cup, held in the very same city, there was to be no revenge for the Poles, who still feel hard done-by for events over 41 years ago. Previous Polish sides had never had luck outside of Hamburg in their 10 attempts in Germany. The eleventh meeting was to follow a similar pattern.
A change of formation was used as Poland attempted to stifle the German midfield, a 4-3-3 rather than the usual 4-4-2. With three defensive midfielders – Ekstraklasa-based Tomasz Jodłowiec and Krzysztof Mączyński accompanying Grzegorz Krychowiak – Nawałka envisaged soaking up pressure before releasing Arek Milik, Kamil Grosicki and Robert Lewandowski on the break. In reality the Germans inundated both of Poland’s flanks, and piled pressure on the full-backs.
Within the first ten minutes, Thomas Müller had already drawn a foul and yellow card for left-back Maciej Rybus; but on the opposite side Karim Bellarabi and Jonas Hector had much more reward for terrorising Łukasz Piszczek and his exposed right-hand side. After twelve minutes it was these two who combined for some neat one-two passing, and as Hector bore down on goal along the byline, Poland keeper Łukasz Fabiański was tempted from his goal, allowing the Köln left-back to cut-back to a waiting Müller, who couldn’t miss from five yards.
Before Poland had time to react, the lead was doubled. Again the home side were given too much space on Piszczek’s side; and Mario Götze was allowed to move inside before firing a low drive through the legs of a defender, beating a wrong-footed Fabiański at his near post.
Shell-shocked, Nawałka was forced into action, and after the half-an-hour mark reverted back to the 4-4-2 which had served so well in previous qualifying games. The results were almost instant as Poland hit on the break: a long, placed ball forward from Milik found Grosicki in space; and his cross with the outside of his right foot was inch perfect for Lewandowski, whose diving header was much too powerful for his Bayern team-mate Neuer to keep out.
Poland instantly looked rejuvenated, and twice Lewandowski had chances to level before the break. A poor clearance from Neuer was collected by the Polish midfield, and played in, Lewandowski controlled before firing a thunderbolt towards goal. Neuer had to be at his very best, deflecting the ball over with a quick-reaction save, but in reality Lewy should have buried it into the back of the net. From the resulting corner the captain rose highest to head towards goal, with only Götze on the line to prevent a tie at the halfway stage.
The break came with Poland well on top, and looking the most-threatening. Once play resumed the home side regained momentum, and despite am openness to the game, never really looked like letting their lead slip.
While Poland pushed forward for a second-half equaliser, they were too often left exposed at the back; and with an uncharacteristically sloppy performance, the back-four were required to display more of the lion-hearted defending which had kept the scores level for so long in Warsaw 11 months ago. On the occasion where Götze was allowed to slip through, his attempt could only find Fabiański’s left-hand upright.
As the game begun to peter out, Götze did manage a second, albeit with a slice of luck. Müller’s shot from eighteen yards was to be comfortably covered by Fabiański; that was until Glik’s outstretched leg deflected it off of the keeper’s legs, and into the path of the waiting striker.
So now Nawałka’s men head back to Warsaw ahead of Monday’s meeting with Group D’s bottom side Gibraltar, knowing that nothing other than comfortable victory is acceptable. After the earlier shock result in Tbilisi, Poland now have a three-point cushion over fourth-placed Scotland, which could even be extended to six with the Tartan Army hosting the World Champions in a few days’ time. Ireland too have to face the Germans, next month in Dublin; and if Die Mannschaft can step into fourth- and even fifth-gear, Poland’s chances of qualification could increase massively.
Germany – Poland 3:1 (2:1) – Commerzbank Arena, Frankfurt
Müller 12′, Götze 19′, 82′ – Lewandowski 36′
Neuer – Can, Hummels, Boateng, Hector – Schwiensteiger, Kroos – Müller, Özil, Bellarabia (Gündogan 53′) – Götze (Podolski 90+1′)
Fabiański – Piszczek (Olkowski 43′), Glik, Szukała, Rybus – Mączynski (Błaszczykowski 63′), Krychowiak, Jodłowiec – Grosicki (Peszko 83′), Milik – Lewandowski
Kroos, Schweinsteiger – Rybus, Grosicki
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)
Group D (after 7 games):
Germany – 16pts
Poland – 14pts
Ireland – 12pts
Scotland – 11pts
Georgia – 6pts
Gibraltar – 0pts