Robert Lewandowski has yet to score at Euro 2016, and his coach Adam Nawalka believes the striker needs more protection from ‘brutal’ tackles if he is to help Poland beat Portugal in the first quarter-final of the tournament, in Marseille tonight.
Lewandowski scored more than any other player in the qualifying stages, with 13 goals, but he has failed to find the net so far in France and the only record he has here is as the most-fouled player in the tournament.
The Bayern Munich forward has been fouled 16 times so far, two more than his team-mate Grzegorz Krychowiak, and Nawalka believes the leading players need more protection from referees.
“Robert Lewandowski is one of the best strikers, and for me he is the best number nine in the world. He’s marked very tightly, sometimes double or triple marked. Opponents try to attack him all the time, but he is coping well physically so far.
“Referees should be playing particular attention to brutal fouls in general to eliminate the situation when an opponent is trying to take out players at any cost. Referees have to pay attention to make sure those fouls are picked upon very quickly. They need to react with yellow and red cards and that would eliminate these fouls from the game.” Nawalka stressed that he was satisfied with Lewandowski’s contribution so far, though. “He is a very important player for our team and I am happy with his performances so far. He’s playing for the team and he’s fulfilling a very important role both as a captain and as a player.”
Poland have never gone this far in the European Championship but they have conceded only one goal and are quietly making progress towards a new high, a situation not lost on Nawalka. “The fact that we have reached this stage of the competition is not a surprise for us — we have been expecting it from the beginning,” said the coach.
“We have been making steady progress and playing a high level of football. The players have done amazing work in the qualifiers and we prepared well for this tournament, and you can see it here.”
Portugal have struggled in France. It took a late winner in stoppage time to beat Croatia in the last 16, and they did not win a group game. Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice against Hungary in the group stages to go within one goal of equalling Michel Platini’s record of nine goals in the finals, but Nawalka says they should not single out the Real Madrid star for special treatment.
“Portugal are very dangerous opponents with players from the highest level. I don’t even want to mention Cristiano Ronaldo, who is one of the best players in the world.
“Football is a team game, and there is no team for whom one player decides the outcome of the match. We don’t need to look only at Ronaldo but their other players as well, and we need to play at a high level ourselves if we are to win.”
Arkadiusz Milik emphasised this point, vowing not to be overawed when he comes face to face with Ronaldo, whom he considers a role model. The Ajax striker, whose goal sank Northern Ireland in Poland’s opening game, says it will be a special moment to come up against the man who inspired him.
“I can’t hide the fact that only a few years ago I was trying to learn from Cristiano Ronaldo,” said Milik, who revealed how he watched videos of the former Manchester United star. “He’s one of the world’s best players and you need to follow and take inspiration from players like that.
“He’s an example of hard work — it is not just talent. It will be something special for me to play against him and it will be great to meet on the pitch, but I will try to focus on my team and not look up at him.”
Portuguese midfielder Adrien said Portugal’s players consider Ronaldo as a team-mate first, superstar second. “Cristiano is very important for our team, there is no point beating about the bush,” he said.
“He’s here with us, in form and scoring goals. But he’s also our captain and an important part of our team, and that is what we focus on.”
Poland are likely to be unchanged from the team that beat Switzerland in the last 16.
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