Reasons to be cheerful, and fearful, ahead of crunch clash against Poland
For Ireland fans to start arranging travel plans to France next June, Poland’s 18-month unbeaten competitive record in Warsaw will likely have to be crushed tonight by Martin O’Neill’s Boys in Green.
No better preparation for such a task than toppling the world champions and it’s arguably a good time to be facing the Poles given the pressure they’re under from an expectant crowd and the absence of mercurial attacker Arek Milik due to injury.
Here, we analyse reasons why Irish fans should feel optimistic about completing the qualification comeback in style, whilst also pointing out some of factors potentially conspiring against that desirable outcome.
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL:
Poland, with a number of domestically-based players in their side, possess nowhere near the level of quality Ireland gunned down three days ago on a night Irish football could begin to believe again.
Coming-of-age displays by James McCarthy and Robbie Brady against the Germans should serve only to reinforce their confidence levels, with the dangling carrot of a first major international tournament sufficient incentive to maintain their performance levels in this winner-takes-all decider.
POLAND’S ROPEY DEFENCE:
In their five games against Germany, Scotland and Ireland over this campaign, Poland have conceded eight goals, whereas the Irish let half that amount in during the same fixtures.
Add in the fact Georgia were only denied an equaliser by the crossbar in their June meeting before Robert Lewandowski bagged a late hat-trick and the scope for probing by Ireland becomes evident.
Kamil Glik, though powerful in the air, is susceptible to pace while the weaknesses of his central-defensive partner, journeyman Michal Pazdan, were easily exposed by the Scots on Thursday.
A far from popular choice as Poland manager two years ago, for all the strides made by Nawalka during his term, the 57-year-old continues to have his critics in his homeland.
An underwhelming CV on the domestic front is no guarantee to success on the international stage and the feeling lingers in Polish football that Lewandowski runs the show inside and outside the dressing-room.
Diehard fans were less than enamoured by the manager’s passive role in allowing the Bayern Munich striker keep the captain’s armband after long-term skipper Jakub Blaszczykowski had returned from missing a World Cup qualifier against San Marino.
REASONS TO BE FEARFUL:
Glenn Whelan’s likely return to the Irish midfield may well be designed to curb Poland's trademark transformations from defence into attack.
It was the ploy which undid Germany a year ago in Warsaw and has been repeated effectively in Tbilisi, Dublin and Glasgow.
Despite the absence of Arek Milik, another attacker, Kamil Grosicki, has pace to burn.
If the Stade Rennais gives either Seamus Coleman or Cyrus Christie a similar run-around to that he dished out last month to Germany’s Emre Can on his competitive debut, then Ireland’s right-back will be in trouble.
“I know I can play better against Ireland than I did in the game with Scotland on Thursday,” said Grosicki ominously yesterday.
Having been named in La Liga's 2014-15 team of the season, after playing a key part in Sevilla club's Europa League success, the club have again recently emphasised their refusal to sell the Poland midfielder for anything less than his €30m release clause. Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund are known admirers and are poised to increase their bids.
On the international front, Krychowiak breaks up attacks and dictates the play in a manner Ireland had struggled to do in the campaign up to James McCarthy’s masterclass against the Germans. He’ll need to be watched closely.
Much has been written and said about the form of Lewandowski, now generally accepted home and abroad as the best striker produced in the history of Polish football.
The Warsaw native has a number of personal feats in his sights tonight, amongst them is staying clear as the Euro 2016 leading scorer, matching or breaking David Healy’s record of 13 goals in a single campaign by netting once or two respectively and, more significantly, leading his homeland to next year’s showpiece.
Most of his Bayern Munich team-mates, including the German cohort and Austria’s David Alaba, will be in France and their star striker is eager to join them there through the front rather than back door.