So after all the farce of Tuesday night, all the splashing around, all the waiting, Poland-England eventually got under way at 5pm CET. In the circumstances, spectators in the stadium and at home experienced quite a decent football match, although supporters from the two sides came away with rather different impressions from the night, even though both teams in some respects can be happy with the result. A young, dynamic Poland came away with a point in a match against supposedly the strongest team in the group and England with a point away at one of their main rivals for qualification for Rio 2014. But it was Poland who took the plaudits for a decent, bright performance whereas the same old questions must be asked of the boys from Albion’s shores.
First of all the Polish manager, Waldemar Fornalik, must be praised for making some brave decisions. Gone was the cautious approach of the previous Polish manager in terms of personnel and in terms of playing style. Of the 14 players who took part in the game against the English, eight were 25 or under. Fornalik was especially brave in starting the 20 year old Pawel Wszolek and in bringing on the 18 year old striker Arkadiusz Milik who’s been scoring goals for fun in the Polish Ekstraklasa this season. Whilst the Polish team set up in the same formation, 4-5-1, and attacked down the wings as they had in the summer, it was noticeable that much more of the play was on the ground than in Euro2012. What this meant was the increased role and presence of the team’s playmaker Ludovit Obraniak. In the summer Polish fans were increasingly frustrated with the continued long balls up to their talismanic striker Robert Lewandowski. Last night Obraniak was much more in the game, spraying passes around and generally playing the role that he was made for. Both these reasons meant the Polish team imprinted themselves onto the game much more than they had in June.
In addition to the issues noted above the performance of Kamil Grosicki must be praised. Given the licence to attack on the right-hand side, Grosicki did so with aplomb. At times he terrorised Ashley Cole and worked well with the attacking right back Lukasz Piszczek. Poland in general had the best of the opportunities and thoroughly deserved to come away with the draw given to them via the head of the Torino defender Kamil Glik. Commentators over here were in general very pleased with the performance, noting the improvement in style and even attitude of the Polish team who put on a good show for the watching fans.
From my perspective the only real negative note was the performance of Pawel Wszolek on the left-wing who wasn’t able to impose himself on the game in the same way that Grosicki did on the other flank. It seemed obvious from the outset that Wszolek was a bit nervous and this seemed to affect the other Polish players’ confidence in giving him the ball. Lewandowski was one of the main culprits, seeking Grosicki and Piszczek most of the time instead. On Facebook Polonia Warszawa (Wszolek’s domestic team) fans bemoaned the fact that Wszolek was playing on his weaker side and that he had to link up with the rather slow and ponderous left back Jakub Wawrzyniak. Despite this, the match was good experience for the young kid and I would hope that Fornalik continues to keep him in mind for the national team.
As for England, the less said about them the better! It was another workmanlike performance from the three lions. Every time England got the ball they seemed to look long and when the ball was inevitably lost, the Poles got the chance to attack once more. The one ball playing midfielder in the side, Cleverley, was thus bypassed throughout the match. The epitome of Hodgson’s side seems to be the hardworking, workaday James Milner, a fact that will hardly fill the hearts of England supporters with glee. The England goal came once more from a set piece, and apart from that there were very few chances created. While the results continue to be decent the performances are considerably less so. Many have made the point that this England side is in transition, but in transition to what? Does Hodgson really have a vision for the future, I’m certainly not very hopeful regarding this.
So both sides will be happy with the result but Poland will definitely come away with a rosier glow from the game. I’m going to enjoy watching this team’s development under Fornalik, the same cannot be said about England under Hodgson.