‘Let’s play ball’: Poland asks for extra in World Cup ultimate towards France

Zagrajmy w pilke” – “Let’s play ball”. That was the headline instruction, backwards and forwards, on Polish web site gazeta.pl on Thursday morning after the tense, chaotic end to Group C the night time earlier than. Poland had stumbled into the final 16 of the World Cup with a efficiency so missing in ambition that home media protection appeared extra like a autopsy than a celebration of reaching the knockout stage for the primary time since 1986.

It ought to have been a day of jubilation. As a substitute, there appeared to be a widespread sense of embarrassment. “We is not going to inform our grandchildren by the hearth years later about how the Polish nationwide crew superior from the group on the 2022 World Cup,” wrote Dariusz Tuzimek for SportowyFakty.pl. “After they ask about it, we’ll attempt to change the topic.”

“Ought to Lewandowski be ashamed? The entire world noticed it,” was the query within the title of Tuzimek’s article. “One Wojciech Szczesny wasn’t sufficient for Argentina and Messi, however we nonetheless bought by way of,” stated Polityka. pl, a reference to the goalkeeper’s particular person heroics in defeat, together with a wide ranging penalty save from Lionel Messi within the first half.

Going through Argentina and Messi was by no means going to be easy. But it was nonetheless a frustratingly poor, disjointed show from a crew that started the night high of Group C answerable for their future. In the direction of the tip, they stood and counted yellow playing cards – and prayed.

As has so typically been the case in Poland’s current event appearances, Lewandowski was left remoted, regardless of Karol Swiderski being nominally chosen to play alongside him. The Barcelona ahead needed to battle for scraps: on the events when Poland gained possession, he generally struggled impressively to win a free-kick on midway. However he by no means appeared like making a lot of an impression, actually not in comparison with the ever-threatening Messi.

Swiderski, who did not look positive what to do, largely turned an additional defender reasonably than a companion for Lewandowski. Even when Lewandowski’s teammates bought shut sufficient to hyperlink up, it felt disjointed and lacked fluidity. Regardless of an absence of service, Lewandowski was not above criticism both. As a substitute of attempting to encourage the crew after they went down after half-time, he appeared more and more withdrawn, his physique language damaging.

Lautaro Martínez comforts Piotr Zielinski after Argentina's 2-0 win at the Stadium 974 - before it emerged Poland had squeezed into the last sixteen
Lautaro Martínez consoles Piotr Zielinski after Argentina’s 2-0 win on the Stadium 974 – earlier than it emerged that Poland had squeezed into the final 16. Photograph: Jennifer Lorenzini/Reuters

The closest Poland got here to scoring, fittingly, was a set ball that was headed fractionally large by centre-back Kamil Glik.

After the ultimate whistle at Stadium 974, when the protection modified to Saudi Arabia towards Mexico, it was a direct reminder of what video games appear like when each groups pose an attacking menace. The Saudis underlined the rating throughout an exciting end by scoring a superbly labored objective that successfully ended Mexico’s hopes of progressing.

Former defender and Poland captain Jacek Bak stated Napoli’s Piotr Zielinski was the crew’s “invisible consultant”. He questioned aloud if the playmaker had “a psychological drawback” whereas taking part in for his nation.

It appeared an acceptable query given the 28-year-old’s detached efficiency towards Argentina, give or take a few respectable objective deliveries. Zielinski is the inventive key for Luciano Spallettis Parthenopeia, who lead Serie A with eight factors. They’re unbeaten within the league, with 13 wins from 15 video games, and have scored 37 targets. In September, they memorably beat Liverpool 4-1 within the Champions League.

The place is that superior participant? And might the fault not lie with the gamers however with the coach, Czeslaw Michniewicz? Would Zielinski carry out higher in a central place, the place his vary of passes and searches may do extra injury? He additionally wants somebody to help the central areas to present him license to assault. Sadly, Qatar 2022 seems to be a event too far for the previous Sevilla, Paris Saint-Germain and West Brom midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak.

There’s a parallel between Poland’s irritating, traumatic historical past at main tournaments and England’s efforts forward of Russia 2018. They aren’t in need of expertise however they by no means appear to have the ability to totally show it, to be equal to or higher than the sum of their elements. Lots of the gamers appear petrified of harsh media therapy, conscious of the anger that’s stirred when the pre-tournament hype is commonly changed by one other limping failure.

They’ve typically been paralyzed by the potential penalties of elimination, reasonably than motivated by the elusive rewards of success at a World Cup. The cumulative impact of so many disappointments feeds the anxiousness.

Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé
French ahead abilities reminiscent of Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé await Poland within the spherical of 16 of the World Cup. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Photos

The excellent news? They’re nonetheless within the sport. There have been occasions when Poland managed to lure Messi, Ángel Di María and Julián Álvarez fairly successfully. At occasions, operating backs Matty Money and Bartosz Bereszynski helped break by way of.

Collectively, they have to carry the defensive solidity into Sunday’s spherical of 16 assembly with Kylian Mbappé and mates. However they have to additionally discover a method to take the sport to the world champions, to guard possession reasonably than give it up. Standing up and alluring strain turns into a one-way ticket house.

Did somebody inform Poland – and Michniewicz – that that is speculated to be the best present on earth? Their supporters should be praying they discover a method to launch the handbrake towards France. Assist Lewandowski, let Zielinski unfastened. Zagrajmy w pilke: Let’s play ball.

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