“L‘Silenzio stampa” is not a phrase that does not translate into Polish, which is why their FA president Zbigniew Boniek stuck to the Italian version of the word “media blackout” to describe the Poland team’s lockdown ahead of Sunday’s winner-takes-all final qualifier for an automatic place at Euro 2016.
And while that might suggest the team is struggling for confidence after slipping up twice in the last month — they lost 3-1 in Germany before Thursday’s 2-2 draw against Scotland — in fact the opposite is true.
Poland coach Adam Nawalka turned Robert Lewandowski’s last-minute equaliser in Glasgow into a huge positive: The team kept on pushing for their second goal and when it came, Lewandowski was so confident that another might follow, he ran into the net, picked up the ball, and re-spotted it so Poland could push for a third.
Nawalka said at times Poland had played their best football of the campaign. It’s true that the combinations he wanted to develop at the beginning of qualifying are now clicking into place: Kamil Glik and Michal Pazdan are a formidable centre-back partnership while midfielder Grzergorz Krychowiak has continued his superlative form for Sevilla and alongside him, Krzysztof Maczynski played his best game for Poland. Arkadiusz Milik is already an important player, connecting the midfield to the attack, where Lewandowski currently has the golden touch.
The newfound spirit in the squad was summed up by a moment after an hour of last month’s 8-1 win over Gibraltar. The team was 5-0 up when it got a penalty. Lewandowski could have taken it for his hat-trick but gave it to Jakub Blaszczykowski. Blaszczykowski had had a tough year: injured for almost a year, even when fit again he lost the Poland captaincy to Lewandowksi, and reportedly fell out with Nawalka. He hadn’t played well against Gibraltar, but scored the penalty and was mobbed by his team-mates. It was a moment that showed the team was on the same page.
Lewandowski insisted after the Scotland game that Poland would not play for a low-scoring draw that would see them hold on to second place in Group D. “We don’t know how to play for the draw. We will go out for the win and if we score early, be determined to keep our lead,” he said before Boneik’s edict. He plays a different game for Poland as he does for Bayern; for his club, he is a penalty-box predator involved, according to InStat data, in 21 duels per game. Against Scotland that figure was up to 42. His intervention in the last minute could have been the most important of all; not only did it earn Poland an extra point, but the lift in mentality at the end was there for all to see.
Even when Nawalka disagreed with some Polish journalists after the game, he was smiling when he asked if they had watched the match carefully. He may be under pressure but Poland, who also beat Germany early on in this campaign, is confident that they can finish the job against Ireland. “Silenzio stampa” is for teams that want do their talking on the pitch.
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