After the comfort of San Marino comes the awkwardness of Poland. International football doesn’t get any easier than a home game against the joint lowest ranked national side in the world, and so it proved as England cruised to a 5-0 victory, despite a laboured performance that never really got out of second gear.
That said, the sluggish display can be excused as getting into the right mindset for a game of such simplicity and routine is difficult.
England will be well aware that a far tougher mentality will be required on Tuesday, but in truth, a difficult trip to Poland will be seen as a welcome challenge. Roy Hodgson will know the importance of Tuesday’s game. Victory for England would be their third out of four in the qualifying group, and ten points out of twelve would represent a thoroughly satisfying start that would put England in pole position in the race to Rio.
This race is certainly a marathon, after Tuesday, England’s next competitive game isn’t until March so heading into the winter months with a positive result is of paramount importance. Unlike Friday night’s game, which at times felt more like a training session, this game is far from a foregone conclusion and will require England to remain fully focused at all times in the face of what is likely to be a vociferous Polish support, if the Euros are anything to go by.
Poland have changed their manager since that tournament after they disappointingly failed to emerge from the group stage in front of their own fans, and newly appointed boss Waldemar Fornalik has overseen his new side pick up four points from their opening two games. Their biggest threat is inevitably going to be Robert Lewandowski, mooted as a possible exit from Dortmund in the not too distant future. He has enjoyed a sublime past eighteen months or so for both club and country, and with 15 international goals, he is the player who is most likely to cause trouble to the heart of England’s defence.
He will spearhead the attack in a similar manner to how he does for Dortmund, so stopping Lewandowski will be an integral part of Hodgson’t pre match tactics. Despite this danger, Poland are currently suffering something of an injury crisis. Lewandowski’s fellow team mate at Dortmund, Jakub Blaszczykowski, is unavailable after spraining his ankle whilst on duty in the Bundesliga. The Arsenal goalkeeping pair of Wojciech Szczeny and Lukasz Fabianksi are also both absent, and Eugen Polanski is doubtful to make the squad.
Although these absentees may prove beneficial to England’s chances of success, this game remains arguably England’s toughest of the entire qualification process and a visit to Poland’s national stadium isn’t a trip to relish. A win would represent a fantastic result, but a draw too would keep England well on target on their long road to Rio.
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