Polish icon senses time right for shock

While Ireland has spent most of the week discussing a former football great, the air of expectancy surrounding their modern-day icon Robert Lewandowski is only ratcheting up in Poland.

World champions Germany visit Narodowy Stadium for tonight’s Euro 2016 Group D qualifier devoured by injuries and with arguably the best striker in their own Bundesliga, Bayern Munich’s Lewandowski, spearheading the opponents’ attack.

The beanpole forward senses blood. Already this week, he’s floated the notion of Germany slackening off since their golden moment in Rio three months ago, an assertion given credence by last month’s laboured win over Scotland and the hammering inflicted by Argentina just days earlier.

Polish football could certainly do with the fillip of a bright start to the qualifiers, given how meekly their World Cup campaign petered out despite holding England at home.

Interest in other national sports has rocketed during 2014, in no small part through victories over their traditional rivals Germany in handball, volleyball and basketball.

For the first since that 1-1 draw against England two years ago, the national stadium will be heaving under a capacity crowd of 56,000, and their talisman grasps a connect with the supporters so evidently devoid in recent years.

“This match with the Germans can give a kick to this team. It can break the doubt and apathy in us from the fans,” said the 26-year-old.

“Polish football is much more complex than 11 people in red-and-white shirts. When we go out on the pitch to represent the country, we throw everything we have into the game. Too often, though, this ends up as just good intentions but here’s our chance to change that.

“We know how strong the Germans are. Lots of the players are my team-mates at Munich and previously at Borussia Dortmund. They have quality but so do we. And there’s no chance of us parking the bus.”

Lewandowski’s record against tonight’s goalkeeper, his clubmate Manuel Neuer, provides encouragement too, as he’s rattled six goals past Germany’s stand-in captain in just 13 meetings.

Having lost so many players to injury — Mesut Ozil this week joining Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Marco Reus on the growing list — manager Joachim Low could hand Arsenal striker and Polish-born Lukas Podolski a rare start.

The 29-year-old’s affinity to the Poland was apparent throughout yesterday’s press conference, culminating in his confirmation that customary celebrations will be dispensed with should he add to his 47 international goals tonight. He even expressed a desire for his homeland to accompany Germany to the France-hosted finals at the expense of Ireland and Scotland.

“An ideal scenario would be Germany and Poland going to Euro 2016 together from the group,” said the forward, likely to leave the Gunners in January.

“Poland will give everything to beat us. But I am a sportsman and am therefore in Warsaw to win.

“I always enjoy spending time in Poland with my family. They were all delighted when we won the World Cup. I am fit and would like to play because it would be special to do so in the country where I was born.”

With Julian Draxler recovering from flu and the uncapped Bayern Leverkusen attacker Karim Bellarabi pushing for inclusion, Low indicated that Podolski’s role might be one of an impact substitute. “That he takes part in press conferences doesn’t mean he will start for us,” said the manager. “He has played very few games for Arsenal and has shown time and time again that he can bring a lot of momentum into the game quickly.”

Injuries aside, Low retained confidence yesterday of collecting six points from the qualifiers against Poland and Ireland over the coming four days to “build a gap in the table from our opponents”.

Such a scenario unfolding would leave Poland, Scotland and Ireland scrapping it out in a mini group of their own.

However, Lukasz Piszczek is certain Poland can shock the visitors.

He said: “The scale of the challenge is huge but so to is the motivation. We are not frightened of Germany.”


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