Szczesny on Fire as Poland Humbles the World Champions
International football usually comes to life in the main tournaments but qualifiers serve as the gateway to the fiestas that take place in the summer, or harmattan period (winter) for those concerned with African football. Speaking of African football, I watched in anguish as my Nigeria faltered yet again at the hands of minnows, Sudan, the whooping boys of the group and with South Africa edging out Congo Brazzaville in the earlier fixture, Nigeria finds themselves in a very precarious situation.
The Gunners have been on international duty and with Mesut Ozil out injured as well as some concerns over Laurent Koscielny’s fitness, I was hoping that there’d be no more injuries for the players yet to feature for their nations. In the first phase of international fixtures, Arsenal had an impact in the England vs. San Marino game as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain provided an assist for Danny Welbeck and there was also time for Calum Chambers to get his full debut. Tomas Rosicky starred for the Czech Republic as they came from behind to defeat Turkey while Santi Cazorla had a handful of minutes in Spain’s shock loss to Slovakia. In the Americas, Alexis Sanchez created an assist in Chile’s victory over Peru while Joel Campbell and David Ospina spent all their time in the dugout.
The star match of the night was watching the world champions, Germany, take center stage against a Poland side led by Robert Lewandowski. From an Arsenal perspective, Wojciech Szczesny was the custodian between the sticks for his nation. As expected, Germany had more household names than the Poles with the likes of Manuel Neuer in goal, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels in the heart of the defense, Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze and Andre Schurrle in midfield and Thomas Mueller spearheading the attack.
Right from the onset, Germany set the tone for the game as Mueller fired a shot that was saved by Szczesny in goal. This was the first of 29 shots that the Germans managed to fire in the course of the game. Lewandowski believed that he was fouled by Antonio Rudiger but his appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears. The Germans almost had the lead when Christoph Kramer’s cross was fired wide by debutant, Karim Bellarabi. The German wave of pressure continued as Schurrle found Mueller clear on goal but his finish didn’t match the buildup. Bellarabi had another sniff at goal afterwards but Szczesny was on hand to make a good save.
Against the run of play, Lukasz Piszczek surged down the right and swung a cross that was meant to be easy pickings for Neuer but Arkadiusz Milik responded faster than the German goalie to nick the ball past him with a glancing header that sent the Narodowy Stadium into raptures.
From the restart, Germany attacked Poland with Gotze firing a goal-bound shot that was parried by Szczesny but the home side responded as Kamil Grosicki surged past two German defenders before blasting a shot that was saved by Neuer. Hummels headed a corner wide and Bellarabi had another shot that was saved by Szczesny. At that moment, the Germans were wondering what they needed to get past the Arsenal keeper.
With 13 minutes to go, Joachim Loew summoned the services of Lukas Podolski that almost made an instant impact as he smashed Szczesny’s crossbar with his evil left foot before Gotze fired the ball over the bar. The Poles struck the killer blow when Lewandowski selflessly found an Sebastian Mila that steered his shot past Neuer to put the game beyond doubt.
This was the first time the Germans lost a qualifier since their defeat to Czech Republic as far back as 2007. That’s goes to show how consistent the nation has been down the years. It’s more or less a set back and I believe that the Germans would get back on track but from an Arsenal perspective, it was good to see Szczesny getting the plaudits for a great performance and I hope he builds on it.
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