(Photo by DIRK WAEM/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)
Czesław Michniewicz suffered his first defeat as Poland coach on Wednesday evening, with his side handed a footballing lesson by Belgium in Brussels. The 6-1 mauling is Poland’s worst since 2010, when they also conceded six, against Spain.
Poland spent much of the ninety minutes on the back foot against a Belgian side with a point to prove after their own heavy defeat, against neighbours Netherlands at the weekend. Despite all-too-brief spells of brightness, the Biało-Czerwoni never looked in contention.
Michniewicz made five changes to the side which started against Wales seven days earlier. Some, such as the inclusion of Bartłomiej Drągowski, had been expected. Others, including the first competitive start given to his Fiorentina club-mate Szymon Żurkowski, were perhaps less so.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez will have demanded a much improved performance from his Red Devils’ side, after their 4-1 beating. He, too, rang several changes.
The hosts’ start was indeed as the Spaniard had expected. They dominated early proceedings, and created several nervous situations for the Poles. Michy Batshuayi hit the post, and later had a goal ruled out having strayed offside, while Eden Hazard failed to hit the target with the open goal gaping.
Poland did create chances of their own – particularly when pressing with intensity; but when they did take the lead after 28 minutes, it was against the run of play. But it did come in style, and in familiar fashion.
For a time it looked as though Piotr Zieliński’s run, from out left and into the box, may not have been going anywhere dangerous; but the lay-off to Sebastian Szymański lit the spark. The Dynamo Moscow midfielder provided a perfect flick goalwards for the onrushing Lewandowski; and despite being off-balance, he managed to gather the ball under his spell and flick effortlessly past the helpless Mignolet.
While the game remained open, the better exchanges continued to fall to the Belgians; and within fifteen minutes they had levelled. A failure by the Polish defence to clear their lines resulted in Leicester City defender Timothy Castagne regaining possession. His lay-off to Axel Witsel allowed the Dortmund midfielder to curl from the edge of the box, well out of the reach of Drągowski.
Despite a handful of half-time changes from Michniewicz, the Belgians only increased their barrage of the Polish goal. Drągowski was forced into an impressive double save to deny the head of Leander Dendoncker and the right foot of Hazard.
Despite his impressive performance, Drągowski could do nothing to deny Belgium taking the lead just before the hour mark. An uncharacteristic loss of possession from Lewandowski gave Hazard the option to advance forward with haste. Playing in the forward run of Kevin De Bruyne, the Manchester City man tucked comfortably inside the right-hand post, despite Drągowski’s best efforts to narrow the angle.
From thereon in, Belgium didn’t hold back.
Fifteen minutes later, substitute Leandro Trossard extended the lead by cutting back inside and firing low past Drągowski. With then minutes left, the Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder claimed his first international brace with a perfect curling shot, right into the top corner from an acute angle.
With 83 minutes on the clock, Wolves’ man Dendoncker hit an equally-stunning effort from distance to make it five; and then, in stoppage time, Club Brugge’s Lois Openda scored on his debut, completing the massacre.
Attentions, now, turn to Netherlands, where Michniewicz will himself demand a reaction; before an all-too-soon return against the Belgians in Warsaw. On tonight’s performance, it’s difficult to be optimistic about either.
Belgium – Poland 6:1 (1:1)
Axel Witsel 42′, Kevin De Bruyne 59′, Leandro Trossard 73′, 80′, Leander Dendoncker 83′, Lois Openda 90+3′ – Robert Lewandowski 28′
Belgium: Simon Mignolet – Leander Dendoncker, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen – Timothy Castagne (Thorgan Hazard 84′), Axel Witsel (Wout Faes 84′), Youri Tielemans, Yannick Carrasco – Kevin De Bruyne (Charles De Ketelaere 75′), Eden Hazard (Leandro Troussard 66′) – Michy Batshuayi (Lois Openda 84′).
Poland: Bartłomiej Drągowski – Robert Gumny, Kamil Glik, Jan Bednarek, Tymoteusz Puchacz (Bartosz Bereszyński 46′) – Szymon Żurkowski, Grzegorz Krychowiak (Damian Szymański 46′) – Jakub Kamiński (Nicola Zalewski 81′), Piotr Zieliński, Sebastian Szymański (Matty Cash 66′) – Robert Lewandowski (Adam Buksa 69′).
Yellow cards: Witsel – Krychowiak