Poland eased into the last 16 at Euro 2016 on Tuesday, but coach Adam Nawalka will have much to ponder ahead of their game with Switzerland in Saint-Etienne on Saturday – most notably the form of star striker Robert Lewandowski.
The top scorer in qualifying with 13,
two more than Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lewandowski was the main reason the Poles made it to France.
He’s the headline act in Poland – the top ‘football’ story in best-selling newspaper Fakt on Sunday was a piece speculating on whether Mrs Lewandowski was pregnant after being pictured holding her stomach.
In Polish football terms, he’s the Zlatan, the David Beckham and the Cristiano Ronaldo rolled into one.
And yet, despite the attention and the adulation, not to mention another success-laden season at Bayern Munich, the goals have dried up.
Lewandowski has now failed to find the target in his last six international appearances and it was not hard to see why on this evidence during the 1-0 win over Ukraine.
Confidence is a fragile thing, especially in top-level sport, seemingly able to emerge or disappear in the blink of an eye.
Against Ukraine, a team already eliminated from the tournament following defeats to Germany and Northern Ireland, Poland’s boisterous supporters could have been forgiven for thinking this was the perfect day for the 27-year-old to get back on the goal trail.
But it didn’t happen and never looked like happening from the fourth minute onwards. That was when Lewandowski was played in by a wonderful pass from strike partner Arkadiusz Milik, but, six yards out and with no defender in sight, he sidefooted wastefully over the top.
Two minutes later he was put through by Tomasz Jodlowiec, but shot tamely wide of the far upright. Although the offside flag went up – television replays showed he was well onside – the striker was unaware at point of contact.
Despite his struggles, Lewandowski was not hiding, putting himself around with his usual athleticism, drawing a foul from Olexandr Kucher after one sharp turn on the halfway line, but his radar remained awry in front of goal as another chance came and went, the former Borussia Dortmund man skewing a 17th-minute shot wide albeit with the help of a tiny deflection.
By this time, Ukraine should have been ahead, Andriy Yarmolenko – another big-name struggling to justify the hype – missed the target when faced with Poland goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
Had it gone in, the regular, supportive chants of “Lewandowski” may have dried up.
Eventually another of Poland’s regular cast bailed him out, Jakub Blaszczykowski slamming a fine shot into the top left-hand corner nine minutes after his introduction as a half-time substitute.
Poland ought to have made it 2-0 a minute later, Lewandowski playing in teenager Bartosz Kapustka down the left, but he placed his effort into the side netting.
In the end it mattered little as Ukraine failed to make the most of their territorial dominance – Olexandr Zinchenko firing over and Fabianski diving to his left to keep out a snap-shot from the excellent Ruslan Rotan.
But Nawalka will know that for Poland to go deep in France, he needs his main man to step up.
Over to you Robert.
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