The second most thankless job in worldwide soccer is making an attempt to steer England via a mediocre qualifying group. Attracts are a humiliation, defeats a shame. Wins are both “dreary” or “routine”. In the event you gained narrowly, you had been dour and unimpressive; in case you gained simply, then you possibly can’t learn an excessive amount of into it anyway due to the weak spot of the opposition. In a method that is a kind of uncommon situations through which neither the method nor the end result actually issues. You’re dullards by default; reassessments happen each two years. Subsequent.
So it was right here for England, who in succumbing to an injury-time equaliser towards Poland neither exceeded expectations nor violated them. The opening strike by Harry Kane was pleasant; the persistence commendable; the motion and vitality spectacular sufficient; the defending for Damian Szymanski’s 92nd-minute header shambolic.
For Robert Lewandowski, in the meantime, the architect of Poland’s aim, a sure redemption after a heroic however largely irritating evening. In any case, essentially the most thankless job in worldwide soccer is the one Lewandowski has now been performing for near a decade: the one-man nation. That is the type of phenomenon you actually see solely in worldwide soccer. In membership soccer you typically discover your stage: in nationwide staff colors you’re caught with what you’ve acquired. And so whether or not it’s Gareth Bale, Goran Pandev or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, there are few extra stirring and romantic sights than watching a terrific participant making an attempt to awaken and encourage a whole staff, a whole nation on his personal.
Attempting, and largely failing. That is, in spite of everything, the crux of the enterprise: they’re 11, you might be one. Lewandowski himself shouldn’t be a person who brooks a lot doubt, as you would possibly collect from a person whose masters thesis in sports activities administration was entitled “RL9: Path to Glory”.
No, the issue is his teammates, a lot of whom populate a number of the finest leagues on the earth and are completely gifted in their very own proper. Nonetheless, there’s a transparent centre of gravity on this staff, and you’ll see it not simply in Lewandowski’s personal play however in the way in which his teammates defer to him, fan out and watch him from a protected distance, cross the ball to him even when he actually doesn’t need it.
There was a second very early within the sport when Lewandowski picked the ball up simply over the midway line, within the No10 place that he most frequently occupies in worldwide colors. Instinctively he slid the ball in direction of the precise wing, the place at Bayern Munich he would usually be used to seeing Kingsley Coman or Leroy Sané or Serge Gnabry racing outdoors him. Right here, nonetheless, the person making the run was Kamil Jozwiak of Derby County: a winger with tempo to burn, however solely when he’s truly working.
The round drawback right here is that you just primarily want Lewandowski to be in two locations without delay. With a view to create possibilities you want Lewandowski in a barely withdrawn function to verify he has as a lot of the ball as attainable. However with a view to convert these possibilities, you want Lewandowski to be getting ahead, attacking his personal crosses, chasing his personal via balls, giving himself the thumbs-up from 40 yards away.
Simply sometimes he even managed it. After a irritating first half-hour Lewandowski chased the ball down on the left, gained it with a sliding sort out, sprinted on into the realm, completely judged the trajectory of the dinked cross from Karol Linetty and hooked the awkwardly bouncing ball at aim with the skin of his proper boot. As Jordan Pickford caught the ball with ease, Lewandowski blew out his cheeks and regarded to the heavens.
An ideal sort out, an ideal run and an astounding feat of athleticism, and all it had earned him was this fraction of a sliver of an opportunity. It will be his final contact within the England penalty space till the 92nd minute.
Much more than England, the defining high quality of Polish soccer might be fatalism. Nothing is pretty much as good because it was, and but one way or the other issues can solely worsen. You’d hardly have guessed from the prevailing temper forward of this sport that this was a rustic that had certified for 3 consecutive worldwide tournaments for the primary time in historical past, that had held Spain to a draw at Euro 2020, that continues to be strongly positioned to qualify for Qatar 2022, that possesses maybe one of the best striker on the earth in its ranks.
Maybe this explains why Poland’s gamers so instinctively turn to Lewandowski in moments of promise. They imagine in him as a result of they nonetheless don’t fairly imagine in themselves.
There was a sure irony in the truth that simply a few minutes earlier than Kane’s aim from distance Lewandowski had loved an virtually similar probability on the break. As he superior on aim, Karol Swiderski made the run to his left, Szymanski to his proper, however neither with the attention to offer a passing possibility or drag defenders away. Lewandowski’s shot scuttled via a forest of our bodies and was simply saved.
And so it was with a roar, and never a bit reduction, that as time leaked away Lewandowski lastly discovered a method: powering down the left channel, attending to the byline, standing up a cross for Szymanski to go in. The romance of the one-man nation is that so usually, their Herculean efforts are finally in useless. The grace is available in the truth that each every so often they’re not.