Key analysis: Escaping the group should be Poland's target - their best result since 1986

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Key analysis: Escaping the group should be Poland's target - their best result since 1986
How far can Robert Lewandowski take Poland?
How far can Robert Lewandowski take Poland?
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Polish fans certainly dream that Robert Lewandowski and co will be able to return to the days of 1974 and 1982 at the World Cup in Qatar, when the red and white team finished third. Of course, it will be extremely difficult to repeat the result now, but just getting out of the group would be Poland's best result since 1986, when Poland last managed to get out of the group at the World Cup.

The previous World Cup ended in disaster for the national team, led by Adam Nawałka. Poland went to Russia with high hopes, which came crashing down practically after the first game when Senegal got the better of them. The following match against Colombia also did not go their way, and even victory in the last game against Japan could not sweeten the mood of fans.

Once again, they had to come to terms with the fact that Poland ended their participation in a major tournament after just three group matches.

However, coach Czesław Michniewicz is positive ahead of the upcoming tournament in Qatar. The former coach of Legia Warsaw, among others, decided to meet with former selectors who had the opportunity to lead the Polish national team at major tournaments in the past, such as Jerzy Engel, Paweł Janas and Adam Nawałka, before sending his team to the World Cup.

Consequently, Michniewicz is regarded throughout Poland as a person who is very well prepared tactically for the tournament.

Strengths

Looking at the strengths of the national team, it is difficult not to mention the attacking line, specifically Robert Lewandowski, who continues to be in supreme form for Barcelona. The captain has already scored 13 goals in LaLiga games this season, with as many as five goals ahead of second-placed Borja Iglesias of Real Betis. The Pole is clearly benefitting from playing for the Blaugrana.

Since moving to Spain, Lewandowski has become even more involved in the link-up play of the entire team, which has already resulted in four assists recorded by the Pole in the current campaign. And the effects of playing with players such as Pedri, Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie De Jong on a daily basis should also be visible in the Polish national team - Lewandowski will surely try to look for his teammates more often, creating more chances for them.

The Barcelona sniper's influence on Poland is huge - when 'Lewy' has a bad day, the whole national team suffers. But when in form, he is capable of making a difference, which in a fierce match against Mexico or an extremely important clash with Saudi Arabia, can tip the balance of victory in favour of the Polish national team.

It is worth remembering, however, that Michniewicz sometimes likes to play two strikers in the starting eleven. In this set-up, the second striker is expected to cooperate with Lewandowski and take advantage of the free spaces on the pitch that are created by him. And here, Michniewicz has reason to be satisfied.

Arkadiusz Milik, Krzysztof Piątek and Karol Świderski are all in good form. Milik has clearly recovered from his loan to Juventus, where he is showing really good form, while Piątek has also been back on track in recent weeks, becoming a key player for Salernitana. If you add them alongside Świderski, who records good numbers in the MLS and, on top of that, does not disappoint in the national team, Poland will be delighted with their options. This gives the selectors the opportunity to use different formations and adapt to specific opponents.

Weaknesses

Until recently, it seemed that the midfield was an area Poland could be relatively happy about. Michniewicz was supposed to have Jakub Moder, who regularly plays in the Premier League for Brighton, and the extremely combative Jacek Góralski at his disposal. However, both of these players suffered injuries that ruled them out of the World Cup dream. In addition, another experienced player, Mateusz Klich of Leeds, stopped playing regularly and ultimately missed out on the squad too.

This has suddenly turned into a considerable problem, which may be difficult to patch up. And no one needs convincing about how important this position is and how much may depend on the importance of central midfielders during the World Cup in Qatar.

Ideal starting XI

Szczęsny - Cash, Glik, Kiwior, Bednarek, Zalewski - Bielik, Krychowiak, Zielinski - Lewandowski, Świderski

Michniewicz has long been testing the Polish national team's ability to play with three central defenders, supported by dynamic wing backs, whose roles will probably be played by Matty Cash and Nicola Zalewski. In central defence, Kamil Glik and Jan Bednarek, who have been regulars together for many years, have a definite place in the side. At the World Cup in Qatar, they should be supported by Jakub Kiwior, who is getting a lot of praise for his performances at Spezia. 

In goal, Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is assured of a place in the team, and will thus get another chance to perform. Recent championships have not been entirely successful for Szczesny. The red card received at EURO 2012 in the match against Greece or the howler against Senegal during the World Cup in Russia come to mind. The 32-year-old has been in good form this season though and also had a successful qualifying campaign, so they will be hoping that this year's tournament will be much more successful for Szczęsny than previous ones.

Hottest Contest

As previously mentioned, the state of the midfield is far from ideal. Michniewicz decided to call up six players who can play at the heart of midfield. And while Piotr Zieliński and Sebastian Szymański are currently in really good form, the same cannot be said for the others.

Grzegorz Krychowiak has spent the last few months in the Arabian Al-Shabab, where he has played regularly, but also been on an evident downward spiral for some time now. Building the midfield around him at the base would be very risky.

Many fans are hoping for a good performance from Krystian Bielik, who has great potential, but often struggles with injuries. And there lies the biggest problem - a healthy Bielik can give a high level of play, but there is no guarantee of that.

Unfortunately, there are not many viable alternatives to replace him. Damian Szymański and Szymon Żurkowski are in the squad, but both players are not reliable at international level. Szymanski became famous primarily for scoring the equalising goal in the match against England in the World Cup qualifiers, but apart from that, he has not received a real chance in the national team to showcase his skills.#

Żurkowski, on the other hand, has not even played a total of 90 minutes for Fiorentina in Serie A this season, so it is difficult to count on a player without match rhythm to save the national team at a major tournament.

The most interesting storyline

Many fans are wondering which striker will get the chance to play from the first minute alongside Lewandowski. If we go back a few years, Arkadiusz Milik would have an almost certain place in the line-up. Today however, it seems that Swiderski's actions are at the forefront of the selector's mind. Whenever he has been given the chance to play for the national team, he has never disappointed, scoring a number of important goals along the way. And yet Piątek is also certainly hoping for his chance, which makes the competition in the attacking line so interesting.

Predictions

Poland have found themselves in a group where they will face two American rivals who are always tough to play against. While a win against Argentina may be regarded as science fiction, the red-and-white team can certainly find a way to beat Mexico and Saudi Arabia, the weakest in the group.

For that to happen, Michniewicz's players will have to play to the best of their ability and get rid of the individual mistakes that have often made in the past. It seems that the first match against Mexico that will be crucial for the layout of the Group C table. 

However, Poland will most likely be able to make it out of the group, but their adventure in the tournament will end in the Round of 16, where the Poles may face the extremely strong French side.