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Poland’s superstar Robert Lewandowski seeking signature international moment

Robert Goddamn Lewandowski
Photo: Getty Images

No. What’re you, new? No one rises to the level of Robert Lewandowski. It’s Robert Goddamn Lewandowski. Dude just scored 40 goals in one league season, which is utterly insane. That’s after he scored 34 last year. Seventy-four motherfucking goals in two seasons in just the Bundesliga. That’s four seasons-worth to most forwards. Lewandowski is just a celestial being, the best striker in the world right now, and any team would struggle to have other players approach his level.

That said, the only thing missing from Lewandowski’s career is a definitive international performance. We thought we were on the cusp of something in Euro 2016, where Poland managed to get to the quarters. On the way they drew Germany, and got a soft draw in the group with Ukraine and Northern Ireland, the other two teams that they beat. But Lewandowski only scored once, and their two knockout games against Switzerland and Portugal were some of the worst games ever played and anyone who watched it had to scoop up their brain off the floor after it dripped out their ear. Both ended 1-1, both went to penalties, with Poland winning the first and losing the second and sadly not saving us from having to watch that Portugal team any more than we already had to.

Still, it felt like it might be the dawn of something for Poland, who hadn’t made an impact on the international stage in decades. But that was snuffed out in the World Cup three years ago, where Poland were trounced in the group, losing all three games and getting home before the postcards.

So which is this team going to be? They clearly mean business, as they fired their coach at the turn of the year to hire Paulo Sousa, with the directive to turn Poland into a far more attacking, exciting team. That clearly was meant to be in service of Lewandowski, because when you have the best striker in the world, you probably want to get him the ball near the opposition goal as often as you can.

Sousa’s results have been… well, they don’t portend to a surprise run, at least not yet. They scored three in their first World Cup qualifier against Hungary… but they also gave up three. They lost to England at Wembley with only one shot on target, though it did go in (yay efficiency?). They’ve drawn with Russia and Iceland in their two recent friendlies. The goals have been there, the defense has not.

Poland also suffered a blow when Arkadiuz Milik was ruled out of the tournament, as he had been Lewandowski’s main running buddy with the national team. Sousa doesn’t have another orthodox forward to play with his talisman, so there may be a slight change of formation. Piotr Zieliński, Mateusz Klich, and Jakub Moder are midfielders who either love carrying the ball forward, love passing it forward, or love running into the box themselves to aid the attack. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Sousa start all three of them behind Lewandowski to mimic how Munich play, though that doesn’t align with his usual back three.

That combination can get Lewandowski chances, and if he gets chances, he scores. It’s whether a defense that has not settled under Sousa can keep those Polish goals from drowning in opposition goals.

Poland caught another break in that their draw has not thrown a collection of goal-filled hordes at them in the group. Which is a weird thing to say about Spain, but has been kind of their thing of late. This Spanish team was weird before they had a COVID scare, and now we’re not sure who exactly can and will suit up. We’ve seen Spain in the last two tournaments, either putzing around with Russia somewhere around the halfway line for 120 minutes before going out on penalties, or getting blitzed by Italy in the last Euros. The squad of legends we knew at the beginning of last decade is most definitely gone.

Luis Enrique was hired presumably to try and break Spain free of their tika-taka-god-this-is-going-nowhere-just-end-the-pain ways, but that won’t solve the problems up front. Alvaro Morata was so good in Spain’s last friendly against Portugal he got booed by his own fans. He constantly looks, and often plays, like the kid who got shoved out there because he’s the coach’s kid and he’d rather just be drawing. The only other alternative is Gerard Moreno, who poured in the goals for Villareal, but he’s 30 and never tested at this level.

And Spain isn’t all that impressive elsewhere. Rodri was a major piece for City, but as a defensive midfielder. Koke is a million years old. So is Jordi Alba. Whereas there once was Iniesta and Xavi or Xabi Alonso, now there’s just good players instead of world class. Does Dani Olmo scream death from midfield? No.

They should be somewhat steady in defense … maybe. They chose their keeper Unai Simon over David De Gea because of his distribution more than his shot-stopping, which is just about the most Spanish thing ever. Aymeric Laporte switched allegiances from France to Spain for this tournament, but he hasn’t played much for City. Neither did Eric Garcia, who would be first option off the bench. This is not furia roja. Furia meh is more to the point.

Sweden was so bereft of goals they allowed THE ZLATAN to return to the team, only to watch him get hurt as 78-year-olds tend to do and he’ll miss the tournament. However, this is a team that has always been happier when Ibrahimovic’s complicated and needy ass isn’t around, so it could work out. Emil Forsberg and Dejan Kulusevski could be dangerous wingers, but they’ll be sending through-balls and crosses to guys who get paid to fill out a police lineup.

Slovakia still has Marek Hamsik’s mohawk, and got here by dispatching both Irelands in the playoffs. This team still runs through Hamsik, but he’s 33 now and plies his trade in Sweden after taking some big checks from the Chinese league for two years. His days of swinging international games are over.

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