Group H: Poland rely heavily on Lewandowski’s goals
Bayern Munich striker scored 16 times in 10 qualifying games and is in scintillating form
Robert Lewandowski has been in excellent form for club and country and could guide Poland to the quarter-finals or beyond at the World Cup. Photo: Rafal Oleksiewicz/PressFocus/MB Media/Getty Images
Who are they?
Since their third-place finishes in 1974 and 1982 Poland have very much underperformed at the World Cup, going out in the group stages on both occasions when they have appeared since. This will be their first tournament since 2006 and they come into it with as strong a squad as they have had probably since 1982. The draw has also been kind to the Poles and they will be confident of laying down a real marker in Russia.
World Cup moment
After scraping through their group in fairly unconvincing fashion at the 1982 World Cup in Spain (two 0-0 draws followed by a 5-1 hammering of Peru did the job) Poland also managed to navigate what was then a second round group stage by beating Belgium and drawing with the Soviet Union. For the second time in eight years they were in the semi-finals but, as was the case in 1974, it was the same outcome. A 2-0 loss to Italy at the Camp Nou sent them into the third-place playoff where they did manage to beat France while the Italians went on to take the title.
How did they get here?
In very convincing fashion. Poland were one of the first teams from Europe to book their place in Russia by blitzing their qualifying group with eight wins, a draw and a loss. They also netted an impressive 28 goals with 16 of those coming from Robert Lewandowski – a record-breaking feat. Their 4-0 defeat to Denmark in Copenhagen was painful but did little to damage their qualification hopes.
Adam Nawalka has been in the hotseat at Poland for five years now and guided them to their first ever European Championship quarter-final in France two years ago. At the start of World Cup qualifying he stated that the same stage in Russia was the realistic ambition and he certainly has the crop of players to do that.
The main man
There’s only one player to go here and that’s Robert Lewandowski. While the other Polish players and manager are always keen to stress that they are not a one-man team, the reliance on their record goalscorer is undoubted – his 16 goals in 10 qualifying games proving that. In the season just gone he netted a frankly ridiculous 29 goals in 30 Bundesliga appearances, six goals in six German Cup appearances and five goals in 11 Champions League appearances. They may say they’re not a one-man team but, were Lewandowski to get injured, it’s hard to see where the goals would come from.
The one to watch
Piotr Zielinski is a 24-year-old midfielder who was at the heart of Napoli’s tilt at the Serie A title in the season just gone after making a high profile €16 million switch from Udinese the previous summer. He played some part in all 36 league games and has also impressed for the national side since making his senior debut at the age of just 19, scoring four goals along the way.
Poland will expect to qualify from their group and look to be on the slightly friendlier side of the draw when it comes to the last 16. They say their aim is the quarter-finals and, if Lewandowski can continue his stunning form, they could very well get there and beyond.
Goalkeepers: Bartosz Bialkowski (Ipswich), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City), Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus)
Defenders: Jan Bednarek (Southampton), Bartosz Bereszynski (Sampdoria), Thiago Cionek (SPAL), Kamil Glik (AS Monaco), Artur Jedrzejczyk (Legia Warszawa), Michal Pazdan (Legia Warszawa), Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund)
Midfielders: Jakub Blaszczykowski (VfL Wolfsburg), Jacek Goralski (Ludogorets Razgrad), Kamil Grosicki (Hull City), Grzegorz Krychowiak (West Bromwich Albion), Rafal Kurzawa (Gornik Zabrze), Karol Linetty (Sampdoria), Slawomir Peszko (Lechia Gdansk), Maciej Rybus (Lokomotiv Moscow), Piotr Zielinski (Napoli)
Forwards: Dawid Kownacki (Sampdoria), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Arkadiusz Milik (Napoli), Lukasz Teodorczyk (Anderlecht)