World Cup 2018: Poland Preview
Can Robert Lewandowski help fire Poland to success in Russia?
This will be Poland’s first World Cup since 2006, and the country’s excitement has not gone unnoticed. An impressive qualification, which saw them comfortably top a group that included Denmark, Montenegro, and Romania, has brought with it optimism and expectation.
Led by experienced coach Adam Nawalka, with a settled group of players and the ruthless Robert Lewandowski in attack, the hype is understandable.
But there must be a healthy dose of realism, too. Poland have talented players at their disposal but many have endured frustrating seasons. Others are ageing, and some have been hindered by injuries. They will also fully know the difficulty of their group.
Route to the finals
Qualification was simple enough for Poland. Their group was, admittedly, not the most challenging, but the ease with which they navigated it was impressive nonetheless.
They were beaten only once – a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Denmark, who finished five points back in second – and scored 28 goals across ten games.
The standout performance was a 6-1 win in Armenia, in which Lewandowski inevitably scored a hat-trick. Poland’s clinical finishing – albeit mainly from Lewandowski – was a feature of their qualification.
Nawalka’s side also conceded 14 goals: a sign that they are vulnerable defensively, and will need a significant improvement in that department come the finals.
Poland have an enviable spine: in goal, Wojciech Szczesny and ahead of him centre back Kamil Glik, Napoli midfielder Piotr Zielinski and, of course, Lewandowski.
Nawalka has generally favoured a 4-2-3-1 system, in which Zielinski operates in an advanced role with Krzysztof Maczynski and Grzegorz Krychowiak operating as holding midfielders.
Poland will hope that Jakub Blaszczykowski is fit and available after a season curtailed by injury problems. If not, Kamil Grosicki of Hull will have an important role to play.
The biggest issue appears to be at left back where right-sided defenders Bartosz Bereszynski and Artur Jedrzejczyk have been fielded in the absence of anyone else.
Key player: Robert Lewandowski
Without Robert Lewandowski, Poland might not have reached Russia. His importance cannot be overstated.
He scored a remarkable 16 goals in ten qualifying games, one better than Cristiano Ronaldo and at a rate of 56 minutes per goal.
Poland’s reliance on the Bayern Munich forward might concern Nawalka. Lewandowski scored more than half of his country’s goals in qualification.
At the European Championships of 2012 and 2016, Lewandowski could not live up to the expectation and Poland failed to reach the latter stages of either tournament.
There is a sense that Poland’s progression from their group in Russia will depend largely on whether Lewandowski is at his best.
Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
Poland’s group is perhaps the most difficult of any to predict. There is no standout team, no clear favourite. The countries appear relatively evenly matched.
In some sense, Group H could be considered 2018’s Group of Death. These are four nations with talented players, and all are capable of advancing to the knockout stages.
Poland begins their tournament against Senegal before playing Colombia and Japan. Given that Nawalka’s side were as high as fifth in the world rankings last August, many have made them favourites. But there is a reluctance in Poland to accept this.
The general view is that escaping this group would represent an achievement. There is an expectation, but it is not too high.
Prediction: Last 16
With Lewandowski at his best, Poland will represent formidable opposition. And it must be remembered that he is not working alone: there are talented players to support him, in defence, midfield and attack.
Poland should have enough to reach the last 16; any further would be unexpected. There is reason to be optimistic, but reason, too, to be cautious.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group D in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.