Lewandowski sees Scots – not Irish – as main rivals for runners-up spot

Euro 2016 Group D qualifier

This evening, as darkness begins to descend on Warsaw, the city’s main square in the scenic Old Town will swell with Polish supporters emboldened by their team’s blistering start to the World Cup qualifiers.

This pre-match ritual has existed since the Narodowy Stadium was built for the Euro 2012 finals but there’ll be a greater zip in the fans’ collective stride making the short two-kilometre trip across the Vistula River towards the venue.

Once inside, the nervousness that engulfed the crowd during Poland’s recent lean years will dissipate. Taking on Scotland doesn’t seem such a daunting challenge when the world champions Germany have been sliced and diced on the same patch four days previously. By filleting Germany on Saturday, going top of European Championship qualification Group D with Ireland in the process, not only has Adam Nawalka’s side convinced the wider apathetic public of their credentials but also brought into sharper focus that weight of history eternally perched on the shoulder of Polish football.

Qualification for major tournaments was a given at one stage in this country. Four times in a row from 1974-1986 the Poles were represented at the World Cup, twice finishing third. Twice more in the last decade they reached the same stage but, like their couple of appearances in the Euros, anger followed poor showings.

Reminders of that golden period 30 years ago are everywhere in the Polish capital and their standout player of the era, Zibì Boniek, regularly reminisces about days of yore in his role as president of the Polish football federation.

With two world-class players in Robert Lewandowski and Wojciech Szczesny bookending the spine of the team, even the former Juventus midfielder has spoken of the capabilities within this Polish outfit, one that can prosper further towards France in 2016 with victory over the Scots.

“The confidence from the crowd and the players was evident from the start of the game against Germany,” said Boniek, who for all his feats in the game never sampled success over their powerful neighbours as player or manager.

Lewandowski, a powerhouse in the lone striker’s role at the weekend, was also leaving aside the groundbreaking achievement of Saturday to concentrate on Gordon Strachan’s Scots.

In the chase for one of the two qualifying slots, the Bayern Munich forward considers Scotland more of a threat to the Poles than Ireland.

“It is no secret that Germany will win this group easily but our biggest rival for second place is Scotland,” said the 26-year-old Poland skipper.

“Although we made history against Germany, it’s still only three points.

“If we lose against Scotland, we will have only picked up three points from the two matches and that’s not enough.”

Exactly how well the Scottish defence, now missing injured centre-back Grant Hanley, cope with the presence of Lewandowski could have a major bearing on tonight’s outcome.

Ireland face the Poles in Dublin in March and the return fixture a year this week.

If it was David Alaba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s individual brilliance for Austria and Sweden that ultimately crushed Ireland’s play-off ambitions in the last qualification campaign, then Poland’s gangly talisman could represent a tormentor of similar ilk this time around.

POLAND (probable): Szczesny; Piszczek, Szukala, Glik, Wawrzyniak; Krychowiak, Maczynski, Rybus; Grosicki, Lewandowski, Milik.

SCOTLAND (probable): Marshall; Hutton, R Martin, Berra, Robertson; McArthur, Brown; Morrison, Naismith, Anya; S Fletcher.

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