19:45 BST, Friday 8th June, Stadion Miejski (Poznań, Poland)
Poland are back in the World Cup for the first time since 2006, but before they return to the sport’s grandest stage, there are two warm-up matches -they also face Lithuania on June 12th- that could provide a good sign of what to expect from Adam Nawalka’s side in Russia.
Last time out, the Polish earned a needed victory, beating fellow World Cup competitor South Korea 3-2 on March 27, after losing consecutive friendlies to Mexico and Nigeria by matching 1-0 scorelines.
Joining the Netherlands, Italy and the United States as those who stunningly failed to qualify for the World Cup, Chile have only improvement and national pride to play for on the international front.
Facing a relatively quick turnaround Friday, Chile return to action after beating World Cup-bound Serbia 1-0 on Guillermo Maripan’s 88th-minute score Monday.
Last Time Out
Poland 3-2 South Korea
The Poles edged out a narrow victory over fellow World Cup participants South Korea, needing an injury-time winner from Piotr Zielinski to end their run of defeats.
Poland were comfortable for a majority of the game, leading 2-0 by the break with goals from Robert Lewandowski and Kamil Grosicki, but perhaps comfort got the better of them as Lee Chang-min and Hwang Hee-chan fought back for the South Koreans with two goals in two minutes.
Zielinski ensured Poland won the game with a goal in the 92nd minute.
Serbia 0-1 Chile
Serbia didn’t get off to the best start in terms of preparing for the World Cup and found themselves on the end of a defeat to Chile.
The Chileans left it late, but former Manchester United youth Angelo Henriquez produced a contender for miss of the season prior to the winner, failing to score from a few yards out with the ‘keeper stranded on the floor.
Defender Guillermo Maripan spared Henriquez his blushes, however, heading in the winner in the 89th minute, giving Serbia boss Mladen Krstajic plenty to ponder ahead of the World Cup.
The same day Nawalka announced his squad for Russia, news broke that talented centre-back Kamil Glik is likely to miss the World Cup after suffering a shoulder injury in training. That’s a major blow for the Eagles, who might use Jan Bednarek in his place.
With the World Cup squad set, Nawalka’s starting XI in this match -or against Lithuania next week- could be the lineup that also opens against Senegal on June 19.
Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski remain in a battle for the number one spot.
Chile used plenty of bodies – minus star Alexis Sanchez – against Serbia and in a 3-2 loss to Romania last week. They should do the same in this contest as they are playing for the future and nothing else.
Key men: Piotr Zielinski vs Junior Fernandes
Lewandowski is no doubt the heart of the Polish lineup, but Zielinski could be the team’s X-factor in Russia. He scored against South Korea and also notched two goals for Napoli in the Champions League this season.
If Poland are to make it out of the group stage, they’ll need more than Lewandowski, especially with Glik down. Zielinski has shown of late that he might be the next man up.
Fernandes was named Man of the Match against Serbia because of his solid two-way play, and he may be the player to lead Chile into the future. Especially, if Sanchez remains inconsistent.
At the moment, Fernandes also seems to be one of the few Chileans playing with drive and passion. Then again, with nothing to strive for this summer, that’s understandable, but pride can also be a powerful motivational factor.
Are Poland ready for the World Cup?
It can’t be understated enough how much that March victory over South Korea breathed life into the Polish. Some time has passed, but together as a team they have something positive to build on.
Continued strong form against Chile and Lithuania – though not a pair international powerhouses – could go a long way in preparing Poland for the World Cup.
Poland, who can rely too much on attack to get by at times, are a team that, if in form, have the potential to make a run into the knockout rounds of the World Cup. But it’s all about momentum, and the Polish need to build some.
What’s next for Chile?
With incentive lacking at the moment, the focus of Chile’s national team is on building for the future. Though they kept clean sheets against World Cup teams Denmark and Serbia already in 2018, defence remains a concern for Chile, especially after yielding three goals to Romania last week and at least three goals four times over two years of World Cup qualifying.
It will naturally be hard for the Chilean players, coaches and fans to watch the World Cup, but it may also provide a spark that can motivate them to rebound, regroup and make sure it never happens again.
Prediction: Poland 2-1 Chile
With the side they’ll take to Russia intact, Poland play with a purpose in this initial meeting with Chile and provide a good showing in their first of two warm-up games before the fun starts.
A late goal, possibly within the final 10 minutes, will send the Polish to victory as they overcome a tough challenge from a Chile team still trying to figure things out.
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