Leading the world champions by a point in the standings, Poland’s quest to remain there heading into the final three ties will be aided by an estimated 10,000 visiting fans inside the Commerzbank-Arena.
Poland’s surge towards reaching France next year has stretched to an unbeaten run of six games and, despite facing their toughest test against their oldest rivals, Robert Lewandowski and his teammates were displaying no signs of inferiority yesterday.
“Germany look at us differently now,” explains the skipper in reference to the 2-0 defeat they inflicted on Joachim Low’s side last October in the reverse fixture.
“I don’t think they will swarm all over us from the beginning as they know we could hit them on the counterattack.
“Certainly the perception of the Polish national team has changed in recent times. It reflects that we are a team that beat the world champions and we lead the group.
“Germany now respect us and I think we can remain top of the table after these two games against Germany and Gibraltar.”
With their key central defender, Torino’s Kamil Glik, back from suspension and Swansea City’s Lukasz Fabianski their established goalkeeper after displacing Wojciech Szczesny since their 1-1 draw against Ireland in March, Poland’s rearguard may just be as difficult to perforate as the Germans discovered 11 months ago in Warsaw.
Lewandowski is their only player comparable in status to a Germany side laced with World Cup and Champions League winners but the emergence during the campaign of Uefa Cup winner Grzegorz Krychowiak and Arkadiusz Milik, Ajax’s €5m summer purchase, as integral to their backbone underlines the trajectory headed on by this Polish outfit.
“There is humility in us, but there is no fear,” their manager Adam Nawalka pointedly told informed German media yesterday.
“Many of our players operate in the best leagues in the world so there is no pressure in coming to Frankfurt to face the world champions.
“We are top of the group because we’ve deserved it. Sure, Germany will probably dominate the midfield tonight yet will be defensive when needed and creative on the attack. Our players have surprised the Germans before and they’ve improved even more since. They are capable of getting a result here.”
For Germany, the opportunity exists for the initiative to be finally taken in the group.
Low has admitted the exertions of reigning supreme in Brazil 14 months ago had an adverse impact on the first half of this Euro campaign.
Only a scruffy 2-1 win over Scotland stands as a triumph over their group rivals, as Poland claimed victory and John O’Shea nicked a late draw for Ireland four days later.
“Emotionally and physically, it was difficult for our players after winning the World Cup,” Low revealed yesterday.
“There have plenty of problems. We are used to leading the group from the start but this is a different campaign. A lot of our players missed the early part of the qualifiers through injury but are available now for this tough test.”
English-based players Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger are expected to feature but a nightmare litany of injuries continues for Marco Reus after he was ruled out with a broken toe yesterday.
“This is business time now,” stressed German striker Thomas Muller.
“Of course, this is our hardest game of the group and the there’s a score to settle after our last meeting. We would like to travel to Scotland leading the group and I think we can.”
His Bayern Munich teammate Mario Gotze, whilst recognising the quality of club colleague Lewandowski in the opposition ranks, sounded a similarly upbeat message from the German camp.
“We know Robert is a world-class striker but we are at home and will expect to win,” said the World Cup final match-winner. “This has been an interesting group with competition for the two qualifying places.”
Neuer; Rudy, Boateng, Hummels, Durm; Schweinsteiger, Kroos; Müller, Götze, Ozil; Schürrle.
Fabianski; Piszczek, Szukala, Glik, Jedrzejczyk; Krychowiak, Maczynski; Grosicki, Milik, Peszko; Lewandowski.
Nicola Rizzoli (Italy).