Lewandowski helps Poland pip Republic of Ireland to automatic Euro spot
Clinical Poland squeezed past the Republic of Ireland with a crucial 2-1 Euro 2016 qualifying result, which ensures the White Eagles an automatic place in the France finals, while the Republic must now prepare for the play-offs, in the hope of securing their spot next summer.
The first-half was a tale of both Irish industry and Polish possession, though the Boys in Green eventually paid for backline panics whenever the Poles approached.
After a cautious opening 13 minutes, the White Eagles finally found a way through the Republic’s rearguard, with apparent Arsenal target Grzegorz Krychowiak excellently rifling in from distance after a smart planned set-piece move. Martin O’Neill’s men were caught napping, and their hosts seized the chance superbly.
Yet, just minutes later, the Republic of Ireland had romped up the other end of the pitch to win a penalty. The referee awarded a rather controversial spot-kick as Michal Pazdan attempted to intercept Stoke City striker Jon Walter’s flick, though his high and out-stretched leg caught Shane Long on the head.
Walters subsequently stepped-up to slot home, his powerful penalty lashed in low and right, while Lukasz Fabianski guessed right but stood no chance of stopping the Irish equaliser.
The Polish continued to press, with Robert Lewandowski momentarily causing chaos in the visitors’ area, his clipped ball finding Krzysztof Maczynski, who navigated the scramble to strike past Darren Randolph, though his effort was chalked off with supplier Lewandowski ruled offside.
O’Neill’s outfit could have conceded a spot-kick themselves several times, as skipper John O’Shea escaped punishment for his rough treatment of Lewandowski at set-pieces.
Though, the prolific Bayern Munich marksman was allowed lethal space just before the break, his bullet header giving Poland a 2-1 lead into half-time. Superb Lukasz Piszczek began the move, feeding a determined Karol Linetty. Maczynski this time turned provider, his cross honing in on Lewandowski, who evaded his Irish markers to nod powerfully over a static Seamus Coleman’s head.
Until that 41st minute goal, Lewandowski’s record-equalling 13th in Euro qualifying, the Polish poacher had been peripheral without usual partner in crime and late injury pull-out Arkadiusz Milik, but the striker looked much sharper after the break.
O’Neill responded with attacking intent, his forced shuffling of the Republic’s pack due to an injury to Long, though the former Celtic boss brought on two forward thinking internationals, in all-time record scorer Robbie Keane and wing wizard Aiden McGeady, with James Whelan making way for the latter.
Kamil Grosicki and Lewandowski both had chances clear on goal to ease Poland’s path, with Randolph equal to the former’s wasteful low strike and and Coleman courageously intercepting the latter in the nick of time to preserve the scoreline.
Yet, the Republic of Ireland illustrated little imagination, with regular lofted balls falling easily to lurking Fabianski, with the ex-Arsenal stopper expertly repelling a close-range header from Keogh following McGeady’s magic footwork.
It proved to be the last real chance for the Boys in Green, who toiled fruitlessly in the final stages. Though there was no late shocks to be had here, as skipper O’Shea saw red for a second caution after hauling down hitman Lewandowski, leaving the Republic to finish with 10 men and without their skipper plus carded Walters in the play-offs.