Late Piątek winner masks lacklustre Polish send-off

(Photo by JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Substitute Krzysztof Piątek pounced late on to send Poland to the 2022 World Cup on the back of a victory. Il Pistolero‘s 11th international goal was the only one of the game, as Poland defeated Chile in Warsaw on Wednesday evening.

While the friendly win against the South American nation will have given coach Czesław Michniewicz a platform to build upon as his team flies to Qatar on Thursday, it won’t have given him much pleasure. At times it was a lethargic and laborious performance, in which the Białe-Orły struggled to gain any significant traction – perhaps with Polish eyes peeking out into their peripheral vision, towards Tuesday’s World Cup opener against Mexico.

Perhaps there was also a hesitance from the Poland players, having already seen one of their numbers ruled out of the tournament after an innocuous fifty-fifty challenge over the weekend. It certainly seemed that way, as their Chilean guests displayed a tenacity in the challenge which was often lacking in the hosts’ game.

Michniewicz’s line up had been, as expected, far from full strength. His intention was clearly to give a number of fringe players a run-out, as well as allowing a number of the squad the chance to play some football having lacked game time at club level in recent weeks. As hinted at in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday, the Selekcjoner gave starts to Karol Świderski and Grzegorz Krychowiak, who have been training in Poland following the early finish to their club campaigns; Szymon Żurkowski and Jan Bednarek, who have played little for Fiorentina and Aston Villa respectively; and Kamil Glik, who only returned from injury last weekend.

The lack of cohesion to this patchwork Poland side was visible early on, with misplaced passes and overhit through-balls commonplace. Meanwhile, Eduardo Berizzo’s side – without a win since the start of February – passed with fluidity, pressed with intensity, and pushed forward with purpose.

Though Poland did create chances during the first period, they were often fired from a distance which caused Chile captain Claudio Bravo few problems. The visitors, however, forced a handful of strong saves from Łukasz Skorupski in the Polish goal, and just as many last-ditch blocks and tackles from the back line; the lively attacking duo of Alexis Sanchez and Diego Valencia causing numerous headaches for the often sluggish Bednarek and Glik. With around 70 per cent of the first-half possession, and having completed three times more passes than their hosts, the unsullied scoresheet at the break perhaps did not reflect Chile’s control of the game.

The interval allowed Michniewicz the chance to tinker with his tactics, and the introduction of Bartosz Bereszyński for Glik saw Poland go to four-at-the-back. Soon after, the arrival of Krzysztof Piątek and Jakub Kamiński gave an attacking impetus that had been absent with Arek Milik and Karol Świderski.

Yet, still, La Roja looked the more likely to break the deadlock. Piątek’s Salernitana striker partner Diego Valencia forced a good stop from Skorupski, whilst the Bologna keeper stayed firm under pressure after a desperate Bereszyński intervention prevented Sanchez’s cross from reaching its intended target.

With the match entering its final ten minutes, Poland finally began to exert an extended period of pressure; and it was Piątek largely at the centre of proceedings.

In the 81st minute, the 27-year-old received the ball in an advanced position and fired a warning shot high above Bravo’s goal. In the 83rd, his low drive forced a diving save from the Real Betis keeper.

Then, from the resulting corner, Piątek took his third bite of the cherry. Pouncing on Jakub Kiwior’s blocked header, the striker smashed off of the left-hand post and into the net, to give Poland a lead that suddenly never looked in jeopardy.

The Poles’ only pre-tournament test was hardly one that could fill fans with optimism; however, it also cannot be enough to write off their tournament before it has even begun. The 90 minutes against Chile bore all the hallmarks of a team with much more to lose than it had to gain. For the majority of the selected players, the friendly was not about the performance or the result, but rather about making it through to the other side without injury.

When Michniewicz’s charges next take to the field, against Mexico in Ras Abu Aboud, it will be under much different circumstances. If they can shake the apprehension and the incoherence which was on display for much of the match at Łazienkowska 3, then Wednesday evening’s lacklustre display will very quickly become a distant memory.

Poland – Chile 1:0 (0:0) Stadion Wojska Polskiego, Warsaw

Krzysztof Piątek 84′

Poland: 12. Łukasz Skorupski – 14. Jakub Kiwior, 15. Kamil Glik (c) (Bartosz Bereszyński 46′), 5. Jan Bednarek (4. Mateusz Wieteska 79′) – 25. Robert Gumny, 19. Sebastian Szymański, 10. Grzegorz Krychowiak (8. Damian Szymański 67′), 17. Szymon Żurkowski, 24. Przemysław Frankowski (11. Kamil Grosicki 67′) – 7. Arkadiusz Milik (23. Krzysztof Piątek 59′), 16. Karol Świderski (13. Jakub Kamiński 59′).

Coach: Czesław Michniewicz

Chile: 1. Claudio Bravo (c) – 3. Guillermo Maripan, 17. Gary Medel, 15. Francisco Sierralta (18. Diego Rubio 88′) – 2. Guillermo Soto, 14. Felipe Mendez (20. Michael Fuentes 76′), 8. Arturo Vidal, 10. Marcelino Nunez, 4. Gabriel Suazo – 7. Alexis Sanchez, 21. Diego Valencia (24. Dario Osorio 76′).

Coach: Eduardo Berizzo

Yellow Cards: Bednarek, Piątek – Soto, Nunez, Medel


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