Poland crashed out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, just as quickly as they returned after 12 years away from the competition.
The Poles entered the tournament as FIFA’s 8th ranked nation, a position most felt they weren’t entirely deserving of when you consider their WCQ opponents. Perennial powers like Spain (10), England (12), Uruguay (14), Mexico (15) and Colombia (16) – who delivered the fatal blow to the Biało-czerwoni’s World Cup hopes last Sunday 3-0 – sat behind Poland in the rankings, perhaps showing the flaws embedded in FIFA’s ranking process.
Opinions of Poland were a bit of a mixed bag coming into Russia. Many were quick to discredit the Poles, questioning whether they should be deemed a shoe-in for the knockout phase. As we saw against Senegal (27) and Colombia, it was quite clear Poland just weren’t up to par or perhaps ready for this stage. Looking beyond the opening Group H fiasco with Senegal where individual errors and a discerning lack of urgency resulted in Poland’s 2-1 defeat, it never felt at any moment over the first 180 minutes that Adam Nawalłka’s men were ever in charge.
Captain Robert Lewandowski lamented the tempo and pace from his side as two of the key contributors to their lethargic performance – and he was most definitely right. As a top ten ranked nation, you expect Poland to take the game by the throat, establishing themselves and settling in. Instead, a noticeable conservative approach from the Poles resulted in a lax performance.
As the captain and undisputed star, more was expected from Lewandowski who carried Poland throughout WCQ with a European qualifying record 16 goals. The difference here was simply in the quality they were up against. The 29-year old and Poland were able to torment the likes of Denmark, Montenegro and Romania with a high-octane offensive mindset as they easily held the upper-hand. However, you can argue that with the exception of Denmark, Poland faced few real challenges to test their will and push them to the edge. Whether that comes down to FIFA’s WCQ structure and how they go about forming groups is neither here nor there. We see it too often at these tournaments that if you do not bring your best to the pitch over 90 minutes, you will be exposed, even beaten – no matter how superior you appear to be on the teamsheet, with oddsmakers or in the rankings.
There are multiple reasons why Poland will not be making it out of the group. Whether it was the absence of veteran defensive leader Kamil Glik, a lack of expression from young players like Piotr Zielinski and Arek Milik, Lewandowski’s failure to launch or just the inability for the Poles to take the reins, this World Cup did not go according to plan. In any case, this bowing out will hopefully serve as a wake up call for Poland who, unlike Euro 2016 when they showed maturity and spirit as underdogs, came out flat and uninspiring as a dark-horse who clearly has work to do before they can be considered a world power in football.
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