Lewandowski does trick for Polish 'machine'
Poland 4 Georgia 0
Published 15/06/2015 | 02:30
IRELAND'S players may well be forming a guard of honour for France-bound Poland when the nations clash in their concluding Euro 2016 qualifier on October 11.
Saturday could certainly be described as Moving Day for Group D contenders - in points rather than places - as the unbeaten Poles demolished Georgia while Ireland failed to overcome Scotland in their Dublin duel.
Robert Lewandowski took the plaudits for his late hat-trick but Arek Milik's opener carried much importance too as the visitors had frustrated Poland for the first hour.
Adam Nawalka's side require eight points from their remaining four games - which includes a certain three at home to Gibraltar in September - to finish ahead of Ireland in the standings.
That's assuming Ireland replicate the Polish feat of toppling Germany at home four days ahead of their trip to Warsaw.
The consensus amongst the perky Polish players afterwards was a satisfaction of knowing the fate of their ambitions to reach France next year rests in their own hands.
With a world-class striker in Lewandowski and a rising star of European football, 21-year-old Ajax attacker Milik, partnering him, there's every chance of Poland maintaining their status as top scorers across all groups in the campaign until the end.
Ireland's potency in attack, or lack thereof, portrays a worrying contrast between the rivals.
"We have been top of the group since early in the campaign and want to stay there," said Poland skipper Lewandowski.
"Saturday's win was not just effective but also impressive. As a team, we are one and heading in the right direction towards qualification."
The Bayern Munich forward is now top scorer in the qualifiers on seven but it wasn't until the last four minutes against Georgia that he ended his eight-month drought at international level.
Midway through the first half, Lewandowski (right) had the 55,000 fans inside the national stadium on their feet when he skipped past goalkeeper Georgi Loria only to see his shot hacked off the line by Aleksandre Amisulasvili.
Milik, who had netted previously against Germany, Georgia and Scotland, showed his elder the way on 62 minutes by opening the scoring with a delightful curler into the top corner following a brilliantly executed short corner.
Georgia came close to an equaliser when full-back Georgi Navalovsky's powerful shot hit the bar minutes before Lewandowski pounced for his quick-fire treble - the second-fastest hat-trick ever scored in a European Championship qualifier.
The Bayern front-man, who had suffered a frustrating night in front of goal, capitalised on two clever passes from Milik and one from his former Borussia Dortmund team-mate Jakub Blaszczykowski inside four minutes to wrap up the points for the hosts.
Turkey's Arif Erdem scored the fastest European Championship qualifying hat-trick in three minutes against Northern Ireland in the Euro 2000 campaign.
"This Poland team are a machine," said Georgia manager Kakhaber Tskhadadze afterwards, still dizzy from the pounding his team took in only his second competitive match at the helm.
"In Lewandowski and Milik, they have two of the best forwards in European football. They will go all the way to the Euros, I am sure of that."
Poland's midfield powerhouse Grzegorz Krychowiak thinks so, too. The Sevilla player is around long enough not to get complacent, yet observes the differences in this group compared to previous underachievers.
"We have traditionally dropped points in June but this was a match our team always felt confident of winning," he said.
"Although we were a bit disappointed to concede the late equaliser against Ireland in March - especially as we deserved to win - that point could end up being the one that qualifies us for France."
Next up for Poland is the top-of-the-table clash against Germany on September 4 - a clash they've nothing to fear about given how the group has developed.
Anything accrued in Frankfurt would have the double-effect of pushing Poland further towards the finals in France and applying the last rites to Ireland's diminishing qualification quest.
Events on Saturday suggest that Ireland's trip to Warsaw promises to be a humbling experience for the Boys in Green.