18,000 Poles will descend upon Wembley tonight, meaning Waldemar Fornalik’s side won’t be there to make up the numbers. Indeed, they will be hoping to deal England the killer blow that will afford their co-hosts from Euro 2012, Ukraine, automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Poland are peppered with players with pedigree in big occasions. Dortmund pair Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszcykowski will provide a stern test for England’s reshuffled back four and in Artur Boric, they have one of the Premier League’s in-form stoppers. He will be eager to add England to his list of clean sheets this term and will have taken inspiration from Jan Tomaszewski, the Polish ‘keeper famously branded ‘a clown’ by Brian Clough in the lead-up to a crucial World Cup qualifier. Tomaszewski’s heroics led The White Eagles to the 1974 finals in West Germany at England’s expense. History has been known to repeat itself.
Below is a list of key issues England manager Roy Hodgson must surely have made plans for by now:
1).Nullifying the threat of Lewandowski
Roy Hodgson and England’s back line will pay particular attention to Poland’s main attacking threat this evening; and with good reason. Robert Lewandowski scored four goals for Borussia Dortmund against Real Madrid in the Champions League last season, and it is believed he has signed a pre-contract agreement to join Bayern Munich. England’s back line has been found wanting recently against sides who deploy an out and out target man. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s four-goal display last autumn will still haunt Gary Cahill and co. Despite the fact Poland have nothing to play for but pride, they are more than capable of causing an upset. If they do, you can be sure this man will have had a large say in proceedings.
2). Selection at Right-back
The difference between Kyle Walker and Glen Johnson is minimal – both are known as much for what they offer in the opposition’s half as they are for defending their own goal. The same cannot be said of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. Neither offers the same offensive threat, but you could argue both offer greater defensive resilience. Smalling’s height could come in handy on the occasions Lewandowski drifts wide, while Jones is much more comfortable on the ball. His passing ability supplemented by his tough tackling means he is favourite for the number two jersey. A word of warning though; they have acquired just 14 caps between them.
3.) Scoring an early goal
Poland’s goalkeeper, Artur Boruc, has been in scintillating form for Southampton this season. Should the Poles opt for a cautious approach as expected, it may prove to be a frustrating evening for the Three Lions if they fail to get that all-important early goal. Boruc has already foiled both Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge this season in the Saints’ 1-0 league win at Anfield last month.
4). Unleashing Andros Townsend
Roy Hodgon’s selection of the Tottenham Hotspur winger was a master-stroke on Friday, but his combination down the right with club-mate Kyle Walker is set to be disrupted by the full-back’s suspension. Townsend himself is a doubt this evening after picking up a knee injury in the win over Montenegro.
Hodgson said: “Andros took a knock, several knocks but one he told the doctor about. We’re very confident and I don’t expect him to report anything different. We’re very hopeful. There are no other injuries.”
5). Get men in the box
In many ways, one of England’s greatest assets could well become their undoing. Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge have all impressed this season for their clubs, with their fluidity baffling opposition defences. However, this three-pronged attack is very much a work in progress at international level. Their tenancy to roam into pockets between midfield and up front saw delivery from Townsend and Leighton Baines wasted on occasions against Montenegro. Hodgson will have to impress on his forwards the need to get into the box and on the end of these crosses from wide areas. That and to take their chances when presented them. That always helps.