Poland swap Lewandowski threat for defensive prowess

Qualifying’s top scorers are yet to conceded a goal in Euro 2016 proper

24 June ~ I have just got back from France where, seeing my friends’ white-and-red regalia, people reacted by saying, “You will beat Switzerland, you’ve got Lewandowski!” Those people were probably referring to “Lewy” from Bayern as he’s now almost a totally different player with the national team he captains. 

Poland were the highest scoring team in the Euro 2016 qualifiers with 33 goals, and Robert Lewandowski the individual top scorer having got 13. But coach Adam Nawalka, a long-time admirer of Italian football, seems to agree with those who believe that having a good defence is key to success and duly morphed his team into a defensive one for the finals. 

Poland are yet to concede (the only other team to match this are Germany) with Lewandowski’s more withdrawn role leading to him being chosen as one of tournament flops so far by L’Equipe. On the other hand Grzegorz Krychowiak was included in the paper’s team of the first round despite having had a poor game against Ukraine – perhaps because his €45 million (£37m) transfer to Paris Saint-Germain was being finalised and French journalists didn’t want it to fall at the last hurdle. The key battle will be held in midfield where Krychowiak will meet Arsenal’s new acquisition Granit Xhaka. 

The stand out player and one who is symbolic in Poland’s transformation is centre-back Michal Pazdan. Many doubted he could make an impression at the finals, especially after he blundered twice in a pre-tournament 2-1 defeat to Holland. Now the player, who was first called up by Leo Beenhakker in 2007, rarely makes mistakes and his ironic nickname “Kung-fu Pazdan” has been changed to “No Pazdaran” (a reference to the Spanish civil war slogan “no pasaran”).

Like Poland, the Swiss have taken a defensive approach so don’t expect a goalfest in the swarming sun of Saint-Étienne in a 3pm kick off (local time). It will be an even game that might be decided by one goal and could easily go to extra time and penalties. (Then again, the weather forecast predicts rain and lightning so we shouldn’t rule out a Lewandowski hat-trick either.) Maciej Slominski