Tuesday 27 September 2016

Ireland hold no fears for Lewandowski as hitman refuses to ‘play for draw’

John Fallon

Published 10/10/2015 | 02:30

Lewandowski “Qualification is at our fingertips,”
Lewandowski “Qualification is at our fingertips,”

There were shades of Roy Keane and 2002 with the way Robert Lewandowski was swamped by well-wishers as he strolled through Glasgow Airport yesterday but the Polish captain has taken to embracing the fervour, considering how his team and the public have connected.

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Tomorrow night, the Bayern Munich striker will lead Poland out at the Warsaw National Stadium fully capable of puncturing the feelgood factor surrounding Ireland following their victory over world champions Germany.

In his typical unfazed way, the top scorer across all nine groups in the European Championship qualification campaign will keep his opponents’ feat in context, reminding those who may have forgotten that Germany were scalped too by the Poles 12 months ago.

Like Keane in his playing days, Lewandowski is no conformist.

He has more than once he’s called the Polish FA to account, claiming that his success occurred despite rather than because of the domestic system, all parties will unify tomorrow for the conclusion of a campaign during which the Poles have never drifted outside the top two berths.

The Polish fans so visible home and abroad throughout the qualifying process are treating this occasion as a celebration, a homecoming to the capital of their favourite son.

Zibi Boniek was undoubtedly the Prince of Polish football but hailed from Bydgoszcz in the northern part of the country, unlike Lewandowski, who was born and raised in Warsaw.

He has got 12 goals in nine qualifiers, scoring against every rival apart from Ireland. That’s something he’s keen to address tomorrow.

Fingertips

“Qualification is at our fingertips,” says Lewandowski, aware that a low-scoring draw, as well victory, would guarantee him involvement at next year’s finals in France.

“Yes, Ireland got a brilliant win over Germany but we have shown our character in this campaign.

“We cannot be afraid of Ireland. Sure, Ireland can get second place. But, in front of our own fans, we are confident about finishing the job off. It is not our habit to play for a draw and that will be the same now.

“There will be a brilliant atmosphere for the final game in Warsaw and our aim is to qualify by winning the match.”

Should Ireland inflict a first home defeat of the campaign on Adam Nawalka’s side, dropping into next month’s play-offs would be considered failure.

Grzegorz Krychowiak, their creative midfielder from Europa League champions Sevilla, echoed the thoughts of his captain when outlining the approach Ireland can expect to face in what is effectively a decider for automatic qualification.

“We are not interested in the play-offs,” he asserted. “We are a very ambitious team. The only one thought we have in mind is to advance into France. And to only way to be sure of that is by beating Ireland.

“We know what to expect from Ireland. In the away game, we led for a long time and should have left Dublin with the three points.

“Our focus is all on ourselves. We have had a good campaign so far and now need to finish out the job we started which was to play at another Euro finals.”

After keeping Thomas Mueller in check on Thursday, it’s how they cope with another Bayern hitman tomorrow that could shape Ireland’s next step.

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