On a night where performance was supposed to be much more important than result, Jakub Błaszczykowski’s first-half volley was enough to separate Adam Nawałka’s nervy Poles from a resilient visiting Serbian side on Wednesday evening.
Having made numerous changes for the visit of Czech Republic in their last outing back in November, Nawałka reverted to a much-more familiar line-up in Poznań for the first pre-Euro 2016 test, with Łukasz Piszczek, Grzegorz Krychowiak and captain Robert Lewandowski all taking their places in the starting eleven. Elsewhere, Łukasz Fabiański returned in goal after missing the previous two friendlies, Maciej Rybus returned at left-back, and Bartosz Salamon made his first appearance under Nawałka in the heart of defence – his first cap since the 5-1 drubbing of San Marino back in September 2013.
Salamon’s call-up, along with yet another start for Piotr Zieliński, is proof that the door for anyone to make a late push into the Euro 2016 squad is well-and-truly open. Neither of the Italian-based pair made a single start during qualification (Zieliński did however play 25 minutes against Gibraltar), but both have performed well in recent months for Cagliari and Empoli respectively, and have forced themselves well into contention for a plane ticket to France.
Although not outstanding, Zieliński’s performance garnered much praise. He looked confident, prepared to receive the ball, and not afraid to look for a creative pass – even if it didn’t always come-off for him. Salamon meanwhile overcame some early jitters, notably a couple of fouls which led to dangerous Serbian chances, to perform comfortably – although he was rarely tested by a lacklustre visiting strikeforce.
Even so, the Serbs were the quicker out of the blocks, and many of the early chances fell their way. After only seven minutes, Adam Ljajić struck a sweet free-kick which was tipped onto the bar by Fabiański. Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanović then should have scored the rebound, but his header fell wide of the empty net. Ljajić again was involved just a few minutes later, however his shot from outside the box squirmed just past the upright.
Poland struggled to create anything of note for the first quarter of the game, with a tame Robert Lewandowski effort after fifteen minutes their only shot on target during that period. But just before the half-an-hour mark, Kuba Błaszczykowski broke the deadlock with a low, placed volley, after Nikola Maksimović failed to properly clear a Lewandowski cross.
Looking to maintain a degree of consistency with his first-choice squad for as long as possible, Nawałka’s only change at the half-way point saw Łukasz Fabiański replaced by his former Arsenal team-mate Wojciech Szczęsny between the sticks. Szczęsny was called into action superbly on several ocassions during his 45 minute stint, including a fine one-handed save from the impressive Ljajić, and late-on a parry onto the crossbar from a powerful Rajković header.
At the opposite end, Arek Milik’s left-footed curling effort came the closest to doubling the Biało-Czerwoni’s lead, but he was denied only by the inside of the post. With both teams ringing the changes for the final 25 minutes, the game petered-out, and Nawałka’s men held on to claim their first victory of 2016.
Poland – Serbia 1:0 (1:0) – Friendly Match, INEA Stadion, Poznań
Poland: Łukasz Fabiański (Wojciech Szczęsny 46′) – Łukasz Piszczek, Bartosz Salamon (Michał Pazdan 87′), Kamil Glik, Maciej Rybus – Jakub Błaszczykowski, Grzegorz Krychowiak (Tomasz Jodłowiec 75′), Piotr Zieliński (Ariel Borysiuk 83′), Kamil Grosicki (Bartosz Kapustka 75′) – Arkadiusz Milik, Robert Lewandowski (c) (Łukasz Teodorczyk 73′).
Serbia: Vladimir Stojković – Branislav Ivanović, Nikola Maksimović(Spajić Uros 90+1′), Slobodan Rajković, Aleksander Kolarov – Luka Milivojević (Nemanja Maksimović 73′), Nemanja Matić (Darko Braśanac 85′), Adem Ljajić, Zoran Tosić (Miralem Sulejmani 65′) – Filip Kostić (Filip Mladenović 78′), Nikola Stojiljković (Filip Duricić 56′).
Łukasz Fabiański – 7: Good save early on, but otherwise rarely tested
Łukasz Piszczek – 6: Solid – nothing more. Comfortable in both defence and attack.
Bartosz Salamon – 6: Troubled early, but came through the test otherwise unscathed. Needs a little more integration.
Kamil Glik – 7: Poland’s defensive mountain. Good positioning, and a couple of vital blocks.
Maciej Rybus – 7: Well on his way to guaranteeing a Euro 2016 starting berth. Strong in both defence and attack.
Jakub Błaszczykowski – 7 (STAR MAN): Poland’s biggest attacking threat. Hungry, determined, and almost guaranteed his place ay Euro 2016.
Piotr Zieliński – 7: Sneaking ahead of Linetty. Mączyński and Jodłowiec in the pecking order. Always willing to be positive.
Grzegorz Krychowiak – 6: Not the performance we have come to expect from Krychu, but fairly solid. Possibly still showing signs of recovery from his recent injury.
Kamil Grosicki – 6: Only glimpses of his recent international form on display. Slightly wayward passing, and not quite at full tilt.
Arkadiusz Milik – 6: Unlucky to see his best chance hit the post, but otherwise rarely tested the Serbian defenders.
Robert Lewandowski – 6: Good skill in the build-up to the goal. In the second half struggled to become involved as Poland battled in defence.
Wojciech Szczęsny – 8: Second half sub made several world-class saves to keep a clean sheet.
Łukasz Teodorczyk – 5: Played just seventeen minutes, and managed just a single tame shot at goal which was comfortably gathered.
Bartosz Kapustka – 5: Played 15 minutes, and hardly involved as Poland defended their lead.
Tomasz Jodłowiec- 5: In his quarter-of-an-hour stint, hardly any time to get too involved. Nothing to report.
Ariel Borysiuk -: No time to make impact
Michał Pazdan -: No time to make impact