Paulo Sousa’s side consolidated their third position in Group I ahead of the winner-takes-all clash with Albania on Tuesday, with a 5-0 victory over San Marino.
It is an odd juxtaposition to both record a comprehensive scoreline which flatters yourself, and perhaps feel disappointed that you didn’t win by seven-or-eight goals; but for Poland, that’s exactly what they managed to do against San Marino at the Narodowy on Saturday evening.
While Sousa had stressed beforehand that their guests – ranked 210th in the world – would be treated as would any other team they might face, it seemed the few seemed to get the message. The team played for ninety minutes at a snail’s pace: almost unwilling to exert extra energy in the opposition box, knowing that another chance would be just around the corner. When the Polish players finally did seem to step into second gear, it was the 57th minute of the match, and they only did so to form a guard of honour for their departing keeper, Łukasz Fabiański, who left the pitch for the final time with the white eagle upon his chest.
In truth, though, they simply didn’t need to do any more. By the time of his substitution, Fabiańśki had only touched the ball on four occasions – each one having come after a pass back from a teammate. A clean sheet to cap a fifteen-year international career, but perhaps not the final appearance that the West Ham keeper may have imagined.
So how, then, can you evaluate anything when you’ve just stuck five goals past the world’s lowest-ranked nation, and barely had to break sweat to do so?
Well, the scoreline was, ultimately, immaterial. The main objectives were that the three points were secured with no one added to either the injury or suspension list. The first two were achieved with little fuss, however Karol Linetty’s first-half yellow card means he’ll now be unavailable for Tuesday’s trip to Tirana.
The inclusion of Robert Lewandowski to the starting eleven had been, if not a surprise given his continually strong desire to add to his international goal tally, definitely a risk – one that often seemed unnecessary as he was crowded out by an eight-strong Sammarinese back line. The one time he did manage to find the back of the net, his effort was swiftly ruled out having fouled a defender just seconds before taking his shot. Cutting a frustrated figure on the front line as attempt-after-attempt to receive a final ball failed, his scoreless withdrawal just after the hour mark came as a relief to the Varsovian crowd, who hope to see him in more fruitful form in three days’ time.
Yet the night was not filled entirely with frustration and boredom: there were still a handful of positives to be taken from the brisk Warsaw evening, however minor they may have been.
The half-time introduction of Krzysztof Piątek, for his first international appearance since before the European Championship, was an extremely welcome sight for Polish fans. That he netted Poland’s fifth in added time was even more glorious.
Then, as Fabiański ended his association with the senior team, the debut of AS Monaco’s young Radosław Majecki signalled that Poland’s “goalkeeping school” is continuing to churn out extremely promising talent.
There were also strong, if not explosive performances across the pitch for the Biało-Czerwoni. Young Pogoń Szczecin midfielder Kacper Kozłowski was, perhaps, the standout; always eager, and often the most creative player on the park. Tomasz Kędziora, Przemysław Płacheta and Robert Gumny also showed plenty of initiative, even if their defensive abilities were hardly put to use at all.
Those four all made important marks on the game, with at least one of them involved in each of the Poles’ five notches on the scoresheet.
Norwich City’s Płacheta was the first, in the 10th minute: after some skilful twisting on the left, his cross to the front post was met perfectly by the head of the rampaging Świderski. The PAOK frontman’s bullet header had to be checked thoroughly by VAR, but was eventually adjudged to be onside.
Kozłowski was the star of the second, even if he was the benefactor of a huge slice of luck. His burst of pace beat one defender, while his low cross forced a second – Cristian Brolli – to deflect the ball goalwards past the stricken Benedettini.
Poland had to wait a frustrating half-an-hour for their third – Płacheta, again, with an important delivery into the box. His corner was flicked on by Świderski, and turned onto the post by Michał Helik, before Kędziora smashed the ball into the roof of the net via the face of Sammarinese defender Palazzi. That Palazzi was immediately withdrawn only showed the ferocity of which the Dynamo Kyiv defender hit the ball.
Six minutes from time, Gumny got involved by providing the assist for substitute Buksa. His cool pass, after ping-pong in the midfield, allowed the New England striker to net his fifth international goal in four appearances.
Finally, in the first of four added minutes, a fantastic through-ball from substitute Jakub Moder and a well-placed cross from the Poles’ shining light Kozłowski, allowed Piątek his simple tap-in.
While five goals against a nation only slightly larger than the town of Nowy Targ may not have been the cricket score fans were hoping for, it was just about enough for everyone to return home with a smile on their face.
If they weren’t already, attentions now turn to Tuesday night in Tirana. After their own win in Budapest, Albania remain in second place in Group I, just a point above the Poles. For each side, a win would almost certainly guarantee a second-placed finish in the group, given their remaining three fixtures. A draw, perhaps, would slightly favour Poland – even if it meant they would still likely need to win both remaining games to be sure.
POLAND – SAN MARINO 5:0 (2:0)
Karol Świderski 10′, Cristian Brolli o.g. 20′, Tomasz Kędziora 50′, Adam Buksa 84′, Krzysztof Piątek 90+1′
Poland: Łukasz Fabiański (Radosłąw Majecki 57′) – Robert Gumny, Michał Helik, Tomasz Kędziora, Przemysław Płacheta – Przemysław Frankowski (Bartosz Bereszyński 65′), Mateusz Klich (Krzysztof Piątek 46′), Karol Linetty, Kacper Kozłowski – Karol Świderski (Adam Buksa 72′), Robert Lewandowski (Jakub Moder 65′).
San Marino: Elia Benedettini – Mirko Palazzi (Filippo Fabbri 52′), Cristian Brolli (Dante Rossi 74′), Davide Simoncini (c), Manuel Battistini – Enrico Golinucci, Alessandro Golinucci, Luca Censoni (Andrea Grandini 46′) – Adolfo Hirsch (David Tomassini 46′), Matteo Vitaioli (Marco Bernardi 74′), Marcelo Mularoni.
Yellow cards: Linetty – Golinucci
GROUP I RESULTS:
🇵🇱 POLAND 5-0 San Marino 🇸🇲
🇦🇩 Andorra 0-5 England 🏴
🇭🇺 Hungary 0-1 Albania 🇦🇱
GROUP I TABLE (after 7 games) :
- 🏴 England 19
- 🇦🇱 Albania 15
- 🇵🇱 POLAND 14
- 🇭🇺 Hungary 10
- 🇦🇩 Andorra 3
- 🇸🇲 San Marino 0
REMAINING GROUP I FIXTURES:
🇦🇱 Albania – POLAND 🇵🇱
🏴 England – Hungary 🇭🇺
🇸🇲 San Marino – Andorra 🇦🇩
🇦🇩 Andorra – POLAND 🇵🇱
🏴 England – Albania 🇦🇱
🇭🇺 Hungary – San Marino 🇸🇲
🇦🇱 Albania – Andorra 🇦🇩
🇵🇱 POLAND – Hungary 🇭🇺
🇸🇲 San Marino – England 🏴