Poland have qualified for their second World Cup in a row, providing a fitting stage once more for talisman Robert Lewandowski to demonstrate his talents. The 34-year-old finally got his chance to play in the global showpiece for the first time four years ago and, after a group-stage exit, will now get another opportunity at what will surely be his final World Cup.
The Barcelona striker is already his country’s all-time top scorer (with 76 goals) and greatest-ever player but failed to score in any of their three matches back in 2018. If Poland are to emerge from a tough-looking Group C, then Lewandowski will need to fire.
The Poles’ opening match against Mexico is set to be crucial, with one of the pre-tournament favourites Argentina expected to win the group and Saudi Arabia expected to finish bottom, which would leave a shoot-out for second spot between the Eagles and the Tricolor. If Poland can advance, they will play their first World Cup knockout game since 1986 – when they reached the last 16 – having exited in the group stage despite winning a match in 2002, 2006 and 2018.
Paulo Sousa led them to second spot in Group I, behind England, in qualification but departed to manage Brazilian side Flamengo last December. Ex-Legia Warsaw boss Czeslaw Michniewicz took the reins and, in just his second match in charge, led them to a 2-0 play-off victory over Sweden to seal a place in Qatar. Michniewicz’s job will now be to coalesce a squad that has a mixture of experienced stars, journeymen and unproven youngsters into a unit that can reach the knockouts.
Here is everything you need to know:
Group fixtures (all times GMT)
Tuesday 22 November: Mexico vs Poland – 16:00
Saturday 26 November: Poland vs Saudi Arabia – 13:00
Wednesday 30 November: Poland vs Argentina – 19:00
Goalkeepers: Wojciech Szczęsny (Juventus), Łukasz Skorupski (Bologna), Bartłomiej Drągowski (Spezia)
Defenders: Jan Bednarek (Aston Villa), Bartosz Bereszyński (Sampdoria), Matty Cash (Aston Villa), Kamil Glik (Benevento), Robert Gumny (Augsburg), Artur Jędrzejczyk (Legia Warsaw), Jakub Kiwior (Spezia), Mateusz Wieteska (Clermont), Nicola Zalewski (Roma)
Midfielders: Krystian Bielik (Birmingham City), Przemysław Frankowski (RC Lens), Kamil Grosicki (Pogoń Szczecin), Jakub Kamiński (VfL Wolfsburg),Grzegorz Krychowiak (Al-Shabab Riyadh), Michał Skóraś (Lech Poznan), Damian Szymański (AEK Athens), Sebastian Szymański (Feyenoord), Piotr Zieliński (Napoli), Szymon Żurkowski (Fiorentina)
Forwards: Robert Lewandowski (Barcelona), Arkadiusz Milik (Juventus), Krzysztof Piątek (US Salernitana 1919), Karol Świderski (Charlotte FC)
Ones to watch
Star – Robert Lewandowski: Everything Poland do runs through their greatest player of all-time, Lewandowski. He netted nine times in qualifying – a tally only bettered in Europe by Harry Kane and Memphis Depay – while at club level he has settled in well to life at Barcelona following his protracted summer move from Bayern Munich. As captain, the rest of the squad look to him for inspiration and his career total of more than 600 goals has just one main omission – a strike at the World Cup.
Breakout talent – Nicola Zalewski: There is a lot of experience in the Poland squad, with a young star harder to find but Nicola Zalewski might just fit the bill. The 20-year-old has impressed at Roma over the past 12 months, with Jose Mourinho tipping him for great things. Zalewski is comfortable at full-back, wing-back and in midfield – and has played on both the left and the right – with Tottenham and PSG said to be interested in securing his services. He was shortlisted for the 2022 European Golden Boy Award that acknowledges players under the age of 21 and his creativity could be an X-factor for Poland in Qatar.
Poland’s hopes of qualifying for the knockout stage might well come down to their opening match against Mexico – presuming Argentina top the group and Saudi Arabia prove to be the whipping boys. The Mexicans are regulars in the World Cup round of 16, while the Poles are looking to get beyond the groups for the first time since 1986, so while Lewandowski certainly could inspire his country to a famous victory and subsequent qualification, they may well fall just short once more. Knocked out in the group stage.
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