17:00 BST, Tuesday 12th June, National Stadium (Warsaw, Poland)
With an eye on their first World Cup appearance in more than a decade, Poland match up Tuesday against a Lithuania side that will not be heading to Russia.
Though Poland are the clear-cut favourites regardless of who manager Adam Nawalka puts in his starting XI for this contest, there is reason for concern after his side blew a 2-0 lead in Friday’s 2-2 draw against Chile.
Robert Lewandowski struck in the 30th minute off a strong delivery from Grzegorz Krychowiak. Four minutes later, Napoli man Piotr Zielinski put home a Kamil Grosicki pass to make it 2-0 and give Poland control.
However, Chile, one of the surprise non-World Cup qualifiers this year, pulled one back in the 38th minute when Diego Valdes took advantage of some weak Polish defence. Following three changes out of the break, Poland allowed the equaliser via Miiko Albornoz on 56 minutes.
Lithuania, meanwhile, fell 1-0 to World-Cup bound Iran also on Friday. The Lithuanians offered a spirited effort before yielding an 88th-minute goal. Lithuania have managed just one goal while going 0-1-2 since a 1-0 friendly victory over Armenia on March 27.
Poland opened with a 4-2-3-1 formation against Chile, the same look they could incorporate in their World Cup opener against Senegal on June 19, especially with talented centre back Kamil Glik lost for the tournament because of a freak shoulder injury.
Nawalka used substitute Arkadiusz Milik up front with Lewandowski in the second half versus Chile and expects to be liberal with his substitutions again this time.
Lukasz Fabianski replaced Wojciech Szczesny in the second half Friday and could get the start as Nawalka apparently remains uncertain about his first choice for keeper.
Manager Edgaras Jankauskas used plenty of bodies against Iran, and that should again be the case Tuesday with little to play for aside from further evaluation of his team.
Key Players: Kamil Grosicki (Poland) vs Vykintas Slivka (Lithuania)
Grosicki is a solid playmaker who also has shown his prowess on the attack. He had three goals during World Cup qualification and added another against South Korea in March.
If Poland are to have success in Russia, they need to take the burden off Lewandowski and Zielinski. Grosicki might be a candidate to help.
At 23, Slivka is a player Jankauskas will bank on to lead his team into the future and for possible World Cup contention.
Slivka has the potential to be a disrupting factor against a less-than-stellar Polish defence.
Can Poland’s defence improve?
Poland’s inability to hold a lead is nothing new.
They gave up a 2-0 advantage against South Korea in March before Zielinski scored the extra-time winner. Friday’s collapse might be more worrisome because they had time to fix those defensive ills, but the absence of Glik won’t make things any easier.
Whether improvement is possible remains to be seen since they’ve allowed six goals in their last four matches.
The onus now falls on the likes of defenders Michal Pazdan and Lukasz Piszczek to pick up the slack, show their leadership and team with 22-year-old Jan Bednarek, Maciej Rybus, and Bartosz Bereszynski to play better on the back end.
Or is it all offence, all the time?
Then again, Nawalka might just concede the fact defence remains his side’s liability and puts all the focus on outscoring their opponents in Russia. Perhaps, starting another forward alongside Lewandowski, like Milik, will be used more during the tournament.
If offence is the focus, then Zielinski, Grosicki, and Blaszczykowski must help put pressure on the rest of Group H. Poland have the talent to advance out of the group stage but some momentum going into the World Cup would be nice.
Prediction: Poland 3-1 Lithuania
Poland is obviously the more talented team, but they need to play like it. That means jumping out early and not letting up while being cautious of injuries. One would think this is a good opportunity for the Polish squad to focus on their defence against a team that lacks firepower.
In the last six meetings, Poland and Lithuania have each won twice and drawn two.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group D in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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