June 25, 2018 3:01:44 pm
Poland entered the World Cup finals ranked highest of the four teams in Group H at eighth but ended up being the first team out of contention for the knockouts with a lacklustre performance in their first two matches.
After two defensive lapses against Senegal led to a 2-1 defeat in their opener, the Poles looked second-best by miles all night against Colombia on Sunday, eventually going down by a 3-0 margin.
Their strong form in the qualifying campaign seemed like a distant past, and talismanic striker Robert Lewandowski summed it up with his nonchalant comments after the defeat to Los Cafeteros at the Kazan Arena.
“Maybe that’s all we could do. Let’s be frank, it’s not like we lost by a whisker. So we fought, we tried to do our best, but at the moment we could not do anything more,” the prolific Bayern Munich striker told Polish TV.
“Many things did not go as they should today, during this World Cup… I was alone, we fought, I fought, I did everything I could, but fighting is not enough to win World Cup matches, you also have to have quality, and we had too little of that.”
Poland led their qualifying group almost from start to finish, finishing with eight wins, one draw and a defeat with Lewandowski leading Europe’s qualifying campaign with 16 of the side’s 28 goals.
Their offensive play on Sunday appeared limited to launching long balls towards Lewandowski, who often had to fall back in the hope of receiving more service.
Colombia did well to shut down the striker with two players always close on his heels, and Poland did not have the quality or the skill to switch their tactics.
“Tonight practically we used all our forces that were available when it comes to our offensive playing,” Poland coach Adam Nawalka told reporters. “We tried to attack but there was no fluid play.
“Unfortunately we were not efficient and effective. The opposing team were better in terms of quality and ball possession.”
Colombia’s opening goal in the 40th minute forced Poland to be more offensive, and it ended up providing more space for the free-flowing Latin Americans. The second and third goals came in the space of five minutes for Colombia.
“We know that we were trying to cover the opposing players but step by step we tried to play even more offensively,” Nawalka said.
“It was clear there was more and more free space for the Colombian team, and they really put it to good use and that’s why they won.”
Colombia not out of the woods yet, warns Jose Pekerman
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman quickly put a lid on the euphoria surrounding the win, warning that they still have plenty of work to do to get into the knockout stages of the World Cup.
It was a warning that understandably went unheeded by thousands of South Americans on the streets of Kazan in the early hours of Monday as they celebrated an emphatic 3-0 victory that breathed new life into their campaign.
“We are not qualified right now,” Pekerman told reporters. “We are out of the competition right now, we need to play at an extraordinary level to beat an extremely tough team, a team that is on the up and up, getting better.
“We’re talking about a strong side with excellent players and we’re going to have to be extremely strong to beat them.”
It was not just the margin of victory over a disappointing Poland side at the Kazan Arena that had the Colombian supporters excited, but the manner of it.
The midfield trio of James Rodriguez, Juan Quintero and Juan Cuadrado orchestrated a performance of real brio that revived memories of Colombia’s charge to the quarter-finals at the last World Cup. “From beginning to end, we stayed true to our style,” Pekerman added.
“We were playing under the pressure of having to win and there could be no mistakes (but) as time went by we managed to impose this quality, this type of football that we have.
“Keeping the ball on the ground and not in the air, circulating the ball smoothly, having players exchange moves quickly. The team played as a unit … and the football emerged from this unity.
“I’m sure Senegal has its personal style but we will continue to play our style … We are going to go forward with faith.”
Pekerman said it would have been easy for the players to panic after the loss to Japan, which came after defender Carlos Sanchez was sent off in the third minute for a handball.
Having come through that test of their resolve against Poland, the wily Argentine was convinced his players would not fall victim to complacency and would be better equipped to deal with future setbacks.
“I really don’t think that they will fall victim to hubris and if we play slightly less well, they understand it can be due to any set of circumstances,” he said.
“This victory will make us stronger but we’re not going to go crazy. Mentally we’re in a good place but we need to continue to improve because we are ambitious and we want to continue in this World Cup.”
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