(Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
Substitutes Jakub Kamiński and Karol Świderski struck in the last twenty minutes, to get Poland’s UEFA Nations League campaign off to a winning start. Czesław Michniewicz’s men came from behind to earn a 2-1 victory over Wales in Wrocław.
With Netherlands and Belgium facing off in Brussels on Friday, Poland had an opportunity to take an early lead in League A’s Group Four, against a Wales team which was at less than full strength ahead of their World Cup Play-off Final on Sunday.
Michniewicz was able to name a strong squad for the match, with their next game still a week away. There were still some expected names missing, though: Bartosz Bereszyński was named at right-back, giving Matty Cash a rest after his busy end to the season for Aston Villa; while Copenhagen goalkeeper Kamil Grabara was handed a senior international debut in place of Wojciech Szczęsny.
As expected, Poland controlled much of the first half, but ended with little to show for it. The Białe-Orły missed three gilt-edged chances to take the lead: Piotr Zieliński headed wide of Danny Ward’s goal, Lewandowski forced a wonderful low save from the Leicester keeper, while Adam Buksa failed to get a touch on Tymoteusz Puchacz’s flashed cross.
Meanwhile, Wales did create a handful of chances on the counter, even if they never really tested debutant Grabara. The Copenhagen stopper looked comfortable – his biggest test merely coming to claim an early cross, which was warmly applauded by usual first choice Wojciech Szczęsny.
Wales coach Rob Page had announced prior to the match that he was expecting to make changes at half-time, and these came in the form of Wayne Hennessey, Mark Harris and Rabbi Matondo. The latter, in particular, had an almost-immediate impact.
Within minutes, Matondo had begun to terrorise left-back Tymoteusz Puchacz, and forced a low stop from Grabara. Then, with only seven second-half minutes played, he fed Jonny Williams outside the box. The Swindon Town midfielder set himself up, before hitting a speculative effort from distance; one that crept under the outstretched arms of Grabara, and into the bottom corner.
It was wondered how Michniewicz might respond to going behind for the first time in a competitive match, and he did so by bringing on Szymon Żurkowski and Jakub Kamiński for both of their second caps. Within fifteen minutes of the change, Poland had drawn level – Lech midfielder Kamiński receiving the ball inside the box from Puchacz, before composing himself and firing into Hennessey’s left-hand corner.
As the game opened up, both sides had short periods in the ascendency; but, with five minutes remaining, Poland claimed the three points. As so often is the case, Robert Lewandowski was the instigator: but although his low effort was blocked by Norrington-Davies, the Sheffield United defender miscontrolled into the path of substitute Karol Świderski. VAR would check if the striker was offside from Lewy’s initial shot, but his chip over the keeper was never at any risk of being ruled out.
It may not have been the strongest performance, against a Welsh side missing some of its star names, but it was a victory nonetheless. One which will provide much-needed confidence ahead of both the upcoming games against Belgium and Netherlands, and this winter’s World Cup in Qatar.
Tarczyński Arena, Wrocław
Poland – Wales 2:1 (0:0)
Jakub Kamiński 72′, Karol Świderski 85′ – Jonny Williams 52′
Poland: Kamil Grabara – Bartosz Bereszyński, Kamil Glik, Jan Bednarek, Tymoteusz Puchacz (Nicola Zalewski 74′) – Mateusz Klich (Szymon Żurkowski 61′), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Kamil Grosicki 81′), Jacek Góralski (Jakub Kamiński 61′) – Piotr Zieliński – Robert Lewandowski, Adam Buksa (Karol Świderski 74′). Coach: Czesław Michniewicz.
Wales: Danny Ward (Wayne Hennessey 46′) – Chris Gunter, Chris Mepham, Rhys Norrington-Davies – Dylan Levitt, Joe Morrell, Matt Smith, Wes Burns, (Neco Williams 62′) Jonny Williams (Sorba Thomas 77′) – Kieffer Moore (Mark Harris 46′), Daniel James (Rabbi Matondo 46′). Coach: Rob Page.
Yellow cards: Bereszyński – Morrell, Norrington-Davies
Referee: Rade Obrenović (SVN)