It was apt that the last ball Robert Lewandowski kicked at the FIFA World Cup crossed the line and became Poland’s only goal in the Round of 16 match against France. Sure, Lewandowski did not say as much as this will be the last game played at the World Cup, but when the next edition starts, he will be nearly 38 years old.
And Poland is not sure of qualifying once again for the tournament, as their golden generation is getting older and older, with Lewandowski losing a bit of his magic, despite scoring two goals at Qatar 2022, the only two in his career, against Saudi Arabia and France, that really helped the Polish striker cement his legacy for his national team.
Yet it is impossible not to think that this was another squandered chance for Poland, which truly missed a better result when Lewandowski was in his prime. In South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014, the all-time leading goal scorer for Poland, with 77 goals, did not play because his team did not qualify.
Four years ago, in Russia in 2018, Poland got a single win and failed to progress from the group phase, finishing in 25th place in the world football flagship competition. At Qatar 2022, though, this was the best Poland could produce, as even qualification for the next phase was a chore, needing a bit of luck in the 0-2 loss against Argentina, as Mexico failed to score more goals against Saudi Arabia.
But Lewandowski, a true star and one of the best Polish players ever, had a few words to say after the loss against France, 1-3, which saw Poland crash out at Qatar 2022 without any character or substance whatsoever.
“The next World Cup is a few years away. It is a long way to get there. We need to play with joy, this is very important to me in the future. When we set up to be so defensive, there is no joy in that,” said Lewandowski for the Polish national television, TVP, after the loss against France.
And there is the catch. Lewandowski is not getting any younger and his native qualities are dwindling as he ages. He needs a better support cast, more balls in attack, and a game suited to his qualities.
Keeping Lewandowski happy will definitely be a priority for the Polish Football Federation, as they know they still have some pretty good strikers behind their star, like Arkadiusz Milik or Krzystof Piatek, but none are transcendental talents like the Barcelona man.
Therefore, this might just signal the end of Czesław Michniewicz as the Poland coach, only 11 months after he was appointed to this position, after the former coach, Paulo Sousa left his post to sign with Flamengo.
Michniewicz was always a coach that divided fans and journalists alike, too conservative for many, despite his huge experience, having coached teams in native Poland since 2003, after the conclusion of his playing career.
Poland definitely looked too cautious, and toothless at times against Argentina, when they really needed a goal. Even the players stated that caution was the main word coming from the bench in the last minutes. Even the local portals had big titles to encourage the team to play more football.
“We will not tell our grandchildren by the fireplace years later about how the Polish national team progressed from the group at the 2022 World Cup,” wrote “Sportwe Fakty”, the biggest Poland sport newspaper.
Against France, though, the tactics were similar. Which doubled down by Lewandowski’s comments, means that Michniewicz’s future in uncertain to say the least, and his fate is sealed.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult game for us. We lost the fight to advance to the quarter-finals with the defending champion. In the first half, however, we had our good moments and they could have ended with a goal,” said Poland’s coach after the game.
It will be either Lewandowski or Michniewicz and the Polish Football Federation know better than to decide against their star, which has godlike status in Poland. Therefore, Poland will need a new approach and a new coach for the future.
And what could have been a good tournament, just turned into a toxic situation for everybody involved.