Our Group H previews continue with Poland, who will be making their eighth appearance at a World Cup finals this summer.
Matching their third-placed finishes in 1974 and 1982 might be a tall order, but this second “golden generation” of Polish players will be aiming for progression to the knockout stages at least in what will likely be their last World Cup at the peak of their powers.
Poland’s ageing squad has myriad fitness concerns: their best centre-half, Kamil Glik, will miss his country’s first two group matches, while Jakub Blaszczykowski and Arkadiusz Milik have had injury-hit seasons with Wolfsburg and Napoli respectively.
In Robert Lewandowski, though, Poland possess a goal-scoring forward at the top of his game: no player scored more World Cup 2018 qualifying goals than the Bayern Munich striker.
Poland start their World Cup campaign with a match against Senegal in Moscow on Tuesday 19 June before an encounter with Colombia five days later. Adam Nawalka’s side round off their group itinerary with a fixture against Japan in Volgograd on Thursday 28 June.
Road to Qualification
Poland’s qualification campaign was a story of late goals and, of course, Robert Lewandowski.
The Poles got off to a slow start on the road to Russia, being held 2-2 by bottom seeds Kazakhstan in Astana.
A Lewandowski hat-trick was enough to see off Denmark in Warsaw, before their talismanic striker hit a stoppage-time winner in the 2-1 victory over Armenia.
Victories over Romania and Montenegro – Lukasz Piszczek with an 82nd-minute winner in that match in Podgorica – lifted Poland to top spot in their six-team group before another Lewandowski treble helped the Poles to a second success over a poor Romania side.
A shock 4-0 defeat to Denmark proved to be a temporary setback as Poland comfortably overcame Kazakhstan and Armenia, before qualification was finally sealed with a 4-2 win over Montenegro in Warsaw – once again, Poland struck late with two goals in the final five minutes.
Belgium, Germany, Spain and Portugal were the only UEFA nations to score more goals than Poland (28) in qualification, but the Poles’ total of 14 goals conceded was the worst tally among the 13 European countries who made it to Russia.
Poland kept only two clean sheets in their ten qualification fixtures.
Most starts: Piotr Zielinski, Robert Lewandowski (10), Kamil Glik, Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Kamil Grosicki (9), Lukasz Fabianski, Michal Pazdan (7), Artur Jedrzejczyk, Grzegorz Krychowiak (6), Karol Linetty (5)
Most goals: Robert Lewandowski (16), Kamil Grosicki (3)
Most assists: Piotr Zielinski (6), Jakub Blaszczykowski, Kamil Grosicki (3), Robert Lewandowski, Lukasz Piszczek (2)
Poland’s six friendly results since November 2017 have been a mixed bag: as well as recording victories over South Korea and Lithuania, the Poles have drawn with Chile and Uruguay and lost to Mexico and Nigeria.
Nawalka’s go-to formation in qualification was 4-2-3-1, but the Poland coach has favoured a 3-4-3 system in subsequent friendlies.
The Key Targets
Robert Lewandowski is perhaps generously priced on McDonald’s FIFA (£9.5m), given his qualification record.
With Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Lionel Messi all costing £2.5m more, there is a strong case to be had for the Bayern Munich striker’s inclusion into our Fantasy teams – particularly in group matches against Senegal and Japan.
Only Mohammad Al-Sahlawi of Saudi Arabia and UAE’s Ahmed Khalil matched Lewandowski’s total of 16 qualification goals, with both having played more matches and encountered inferior opposition.
With his 16 strikes coming from 38 attempts, Lewandowski had a better conversion rate than Messi, Ronaldo and Harry Kane.
The former Borussia Dortmund striker has scored on four occasions in Poland’s last three friendlies and is first in line for penalties and free-kicks.
Lewandowski, who has 89 goals in his last three Bundesliga seasons, is priced at £8.1m on Fantasy iTeam.
Kamil Grosicki (£5.6m on Fantasy iTeam | £7.5m on McDonald’s FIFA) stands to benefit from Nawalka’s formation switch, should the Poland coach persist with a 3-4-3: the Hull City midfielder will likely form part of the front three with Lewandowski and Piotr Zielinski (£5.7m on Fantasy iTeam | £8.0m on McDonald’s FIFA) if that materialises.
Grosicki scored on three occasions and registered as many assists during World Cup qualification and looks Poland’s biggest goal threat from midfield: 14 of his 19 goal attempts came from inside the penalty box during qualifying (by way of contrast, 20 of Zielinksi’s 23 attempts were from outside the area).
No Poland midfielder made more crosses or key passes than Grosicki during qualification.
Grosicki will share corner-kick duties with Zielinski, who supplied six assists in his ten qualifying appearances (only three players in Europe created more goals).
Though Zielinski failed to register a single goal during qualification, the Napoli midfielder has been on the scoresheet twice in friendlies contested in 2018.
The Long Shots
Zielinksi’s appeal could be reduced by the return to fitness of striker Arkadiusz Milik (£7.0m on Fantasy iTeam | £8.5m on McDonald’s FIFA).
Milik gives Nawalka the option of playing 4-4-2, with the Napoli forward paired with Lewandowski up front. Zielinski, who plays in an advanced role in a 3-4-3, would thus be deployed in a deeper position in central midfield with Milik in the side.
Two anterior cruciate ligament injuries suffered in the space of 12 months have stalled Milik’s club career since Euro 2016, where he and Lewandowski formed a successful partnership in attack.
Milik only made three Serie A starts for Napoli in 2017/18, the same number he made for Poland during qualification.
The 24-year-old striker has featured in Poland’s last four friendlies, however, and started in attack with Lewandowski in the 12 June friendly victory over Lithuania.
Jakub Blaszczykowski (£5.6m on Fantasy iTeam | £8.5m on McDonald’s FIFA) has also had an injury-plagued season, having started only six Bundesliga matches for Wolfsburg.
The veteran midfielder has, like Milik, returned to fitness just in time for the World Cup and is another Fantasy option on the flank. Blaszczykowski provided three assists during qualification and has 20 international goals to his name, though his underlying statistics (for crosses, key passes and goal attempts) suggest Zielinski and Grosicki are still the preferable midfield options for Fantasy managers.
Maciej Rybus could be an interesting differential for players of Fantasy iTeam in particular. Listed as a £5.5m defender in this game, Rybus could be deployed “out of position” on the left of midfield should Nawalka persevere with a 3-4-3.
No Poland defender fired over more crosses or had a better chance creation rate during qualification.
Rybus, who provided the assist for Lewandowski’s first goal in the 4-0 win over Lithuania, is priced as a £7.0m midfielder by McDonald’s FIFA.
The Poland defence would otherwise be an area to avoid, given the numbers of goals they conceded during qualification and with key centre-back Kamil Glik (£5.8m on Fantasy iTeam | £5.5m on McDonald’s FIFA) likely to miss his country’s first two group fixtures through injury.
Jan Bednarek (£5.5m on Fantasy iTeam | £4.5m on McDonald’s FIFA) is the likely beneficiary of Glik’s absence and at the very least is an “enabler” at such a budget price.
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World Cup Data
We’re delighted to offer World Cup data as an early addition to our regular season offering to help those playing Fantasy games over the summer.
We’ve secured Opta data, not only for the tournament itself, which begins on June 14 but also from the Qualifying Rounds for Europe and South America and for international friendlies involving the participating nations. This includes all the matches played right up to the tournament kick-off.
Just to stress, this World Cup offering comes packaged with the regular Fantasy Football Scout membership.
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