Back from Russia with a goodbye goal

Robert Lewandowski (R) and Tomoaki Makino (L) during the match. PAP/Bartłomiej Zborowski

History likes to repeat itself and the performance of the Polish football team is just one such example.

Just as in 2002 in Japan and South Korea, as well as in Germany in 2006, Poland is leaving the World Cup having only won only the third, final match. Defeating Japan 1-0 did little to lift the mood around their performance in Russia.  

“Our aim, most of all, was to advance to the knock-out stages. What happened in Volgograd is just a small solace. What we achieved is a minimum to leave without shame and zero points. It’s only a small plus among many minuses. We were aware that we couldn’t fail. We gained 3 points, but we weren’t entirely happy, as a day later we bid goodbye to the World Cup”, said Łukasz Fabiański, the Polish goalkeeper, who was only given the chance to play in the final match.

The first half the game itself was an equal affair, with both sides attacking and creating scoring opportunities. A free-kick from Rafał Kurzawa in the 59th minute led to Jan Bednarek scoring the only goal of the game and securing Poland’s win. It was the 50th match of the Polish football team under manager Adam Nawałka and depending on the Football Association’s decision, which will be made in the coming weeks, it might be the last.

Robert Lewandowski, the team captain and internationally acclaimed striker who scored no goals stated: “If you don’t advance further, and that was our aim and dream, you won’t feel joy. Quite the contrary. The first match decided everything. With Japan, we played only for honour and we managed to win. This victory gave us a ray of happiness”.

Group H provided more surprises than just the disappointing performance of the Polish team. For the first time in World Cup’s history a side, Japan in this case, advanced to the knock-out stages thanks to the fair play rule. With the same number of points, goals scored and conceded, it was the amount of cards that decided who goes through. Senegal had 6 yellow cards, while Japan had 4, leading to a rather peculiar spectacle on the field.

Despite the satisfactory result for both of the teams, they were met with boos and whistles from the 42,000 spectators gathered in the Volgograd stadium. The negative reception was well-deserved, since the last 10 minutes of the game turned into a farce. 

The Japanese coach gambled on the result in the Colombia-Senegal game (1-0) not changing and ordered his players not to take any risks. The Japanese team obediently passed the ball between defenders, not even trying to leave their side. The Poles, with no stake in the match anymore, stood around and let it happen.

The game leaves a bitter aftertaste for everyone involved. The Japanese side advanced further, yet in a style unworthy of the fair play rule they owe it to. Poland fell short of even the minimal hopes anyone had for them, showing that the FIFA rankings, which proclaimed them 8th in the world, do not really reflect reality. Once again the White and Reds go home to re-evaluate their performance and hope for better next time.