(Photo by JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)
A sub-par performance left Czesław Michniewicz’s men to suffer a 2-0 defeat against group winners Netherlands in Warsaw. Poland now travel to Cardiff on Sunday evening, with their top-tier Nations League status at risk.
With one eye on the upcoming World Cup, we perhaps got a first real glimpse of how Michniewicz sees his squad lining up at the tournament. It wasn’t all too different to what had been expected: three at the back, but with Robert Lewandowski alone up top rather than alongside Juventus’ Arek MIlik.
If that is how Michniewicz sees his side starting against Mexico, he’s running out of time to get them well-versed in his tactical hymn sheet. Throughout the first period they struggled for rhythm against a Dutch side which seemed to have the capability to carve through them like a hot knife through butter.
It took the visitors fourteen minutes to breach the Polish defence with their quick, fluid movement. Memphis Depay and Denzel Dumfries were the architects, bamboozling the back-line with their passing, before the latter squared to the loosely-marked Cody Gakpo, two yards out and with the goalnet inviting the PSV Eindhoven attacker the simplest of finishes.
Had it not been for their wayward finishing, the Netherlands could have been a few goals up by the half-an-hour mark. Twice Steven Berghuis – a fifth-minute introduction for the injured Teun Koopmeiners – curled a left-footed effort to the wrong side of Wojciech Szczęsny’s post, while Daley Blind squandered an earlier diving chance which Dutch fans would have wanted to fall to almost any other player.
There were, however, some promising signs; when the Poles did click, they did so with panache. Unfortunately, those opportunities were all-too-rare. Nicola Zalewski’s testing of 38-year-old debutant Remko Pasveer, just a few minutes before the break, was the first and only time they did so during the first period.
To his credit, Michniewicz was quick to make a change: the half-time arrival of Arkadiusz Milik, for the laregely-anonymous Karol Linetty, saw a change of tactics as well as a change of personnel. The Juventus forward was intended to give the Biało-Czerwoni an attacking impetus which they had so far lacked. For a period, it looked to have the desired effect.
Within minutes of his introduction, Milik was gifted Poland’s best chance of the game. Zieliński, again, was the Poles’ creator; his weighted ball through the Dutch defence found Przemek Frankowski, who in turn provided a pinpoint cross to the 28-year-old. From two yards out and with the goalnet gaping, somehow he failed to hit the target.
Minutes later, the rejuvenated Frankowski again provided an inch-perfect ball forward, this time for Sebastian Szymański, whose shot was as wayward as it was powerful.
However, against a side as strong as the Netherlands, a failure to take your chances can quickly prove to be fatal. With half-an-hour left on the clock, Louis van Gaal’s side showed exactly why. Again, quick attacking movement proved to be the Poles’ kryptonite: this time, Steven Bergwijn combined with substitute Vincent Janssen, before placing the ball gently into the corner of Szczęsny’s net, doubling the Dutch lead and putting the tie beyond any doubt.
Despite further substitutions, including late debuts for Lech Poznań winger Michał Skóraś and Pogoń Szczecin midfielder Mateusz Łęgowski, there was little for Poland fans to shout about as the game petered to its conclusion. Without any service, Lewandowski cut a lonely figure in attack, whilst sloppy performances from the likes of Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jan Bednarek and Kamil Glik will have left even the most optimistic supporter worrying about how the back-line will cope in Qatar.
While focus will, understandably, begin to switch towards that World Cup opener against Mexico on 22 November, a failure to gain a result in Warsaw means that Sunday evening’s final Nations League tie against Wales becomes a straight fight for League A survival. Should Poland lose in Cardiff, they will drop into League B for the very first time due to their vastly inferior goal difference.
Given the choice, the Nations League may well not be anyone’s priority; but a relegation from Europe’s top tier will hardly be the best preparation for their ninth appearance on the world stage.
Poland – Netherlands 0:2 (0:1)
Cody Gakpo 14′, Steven Bergwijn 60′
Poland: Wojciech Szczęsny – Jan Bednarek, Kamil Glik, Jakub Kiwior – Przemysław Frankowski (Bartosz Bereszyński 78′), Grzegorz Krychowiak, Karol Linetty (Arkadiusz Milik 46′), Nicola Zalewski (Michał Skóraś 78′) – Piotr Zieliński (Mateusz Łęgowski 86′), Sebastian Szymański (Mateusz Klich 70′) – Robert Lewandowski.
Coach: Czesław Michniewicz
Netherlands: Remko Pasveer – Jurrien Timber, Virgil van Dijk, Nathan Ake – Denzel Dumfries, Teun Koopmeiners (Steven Berghuis 5′ (Kenneth Taylor 75′)), Frenkie de Jong (Marten de Roon 46′), Daley Blind – Cody Gakpo – Steven Bergwijn (Wout Weghorst 75′), Memphis Depay (Vincent Janssen 52′).
Coach: Louis van Gaal
Yellow Cards: Szczęsny – Ake, Gakpo, Weghorst
UEFA Nations League A Group 4