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With Poland positioned in second place in Group D, automatic qualification for the Euros is theirs to lose. So there is a certain amount of pressure on the Poles when they welcome Ireland to the Stadion Narodowy on the banks of Warsaw’s Vistula river on Sunday evening (kick off 7.45pm).
The home side of course just need a draw to earn a ticket to France 2016 but only once that draw is either a 0-0 or 1-1 result. The crucial late goal from Robert Lewandowski last Thursday in Scotland, to earn his side a 2-2 draw, gave Poland a point that gives them that slight advantage over Ireland in the qualification race.
The Polish boss Adam Nawalka was full of praise for his captain ahead of the game calling him “the best number nine in the world. I do not think there is anyone who can stop him (see full story here).”
On international duty, Lewandowski now has scored 31 goals from his 71 appearances and has grabbed two hat-tricks in the Euro qualifiers so far, against Georgia and Gibraltar, leaving him top scorer across all the qualifying groups with thirteen goals.
Poland’s firepower will be limited though as they will have to manage without the injured Arkadiusz Milik, who has supplied six goals and six assists in the campaign so far. There are also doubts over Tomasz Jodlowiec who replaced Milik when he got injured in Hampden.
Another injury means Maciej Rybus, who started at centre-half against Scotland, will miss out but Nawalka is confident his side knows what needs to be done against the Boys in Green.
“We analysed Ireland and we know the strong and weak sides of the Irish national team but we are focusing on our team, our game and what we need to deliver on the pitch. We know we will play a very difficult game. That is why we will be fully concentrate and have a concrete plan for the game. We are prepared for that and we will do our job.”
While Ireland come into the game buoyed by their win over the World Champions, Poland are thankful for Lewandowski’s goals in Scotland. Poland are unbeaten in six competitive home qualifiers, with four wins and two draws. One of those wins their 2-0 win over Germany exactly a year ago while their last home defeat was a 3-1 loss to Ukraine in March 2013.
In Dublin, Germany were not helped by being out of tune with the Irish mid-game changes; Darren Randolph's strong kicking, after replacing Shay Given, and Shane Long's pace off the bench combined for Ireland’s winner. The Poles are less likely to be surprised by Martin O’Neill’s men in this game.
O’Neill’s counterpart Adam Nawalka saw his team struggle in the second half the last time they played Ireand. Long’s late goal in Lansdowne Road left it level at 1-1 at the end of the game. However Nawalka has LikaszPiszczek and Jakub Blaszczkowski, both of who missed that match in Dublin, back in the squad as Poland look to book their place in their third consecutive European Championship.
Poland (probable): Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea); Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund), Michal Pazdan (Legia Warsaw), Kamil Glik (Torino), Jakub Wawrzyniak (Lechia Gdansk); Jakub Blaszczykowski (Fiorentina), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Seville), Krzysztof Maczynski (Wisla Krakow), Artur Sobiech (Hannover 96), Kamil Grosicki (Rennnes); Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich).
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
The Boys in Green come into the game with some freedom having earned themselves a play-off spot at a minimum but have the shot at qualifying automatically for France 2016 if they can find a famous win in Warsaw or even a high-scoring draw of 2-2 or more.
With James McClean and Glenn Whelan returning from their recent suspension and Marc Wilson and Seamus Coleman seemingly recovered from injury, Martin O'Neill has fresh options available to him for Sunday’s crucial game.
"I think the starting line up might be a little bit different but maybe not too many changes. I think Seamus will be fine. James McClean and Glenn Whelan are back from suspension and are keen to play."
The Ireland boss’ predictability with his Ireland team selection has really been his unpredictability. However, having scored the winner against Germany, it is hard to see Shane Long not starting in place of Thursday's surprise selection Daryl Murphy.
Long also scored against Poland earlier in the campaign, when both he and James McClean caused the Poles difficulty as second half substitutes. McClean may well be sprung from the bench late in the game if the game needs turning.
O’Neill had praise for the performance of James McCarthy and Shane Long last week and with Long sitting beside him at the press conference it does seem likely Long will start.
“It is nice to see James McCarthy come and take hold of the game.” said O’Neill. "He took on that responsibility and handled it brilliantly.
“I'm hoping combination of older players with James and young boys like Shane Long beside me will take that on and will keep the momentum going.”
With Stephen Ward having had very limited game time this season, O’Neill has omitted him from the squad. The Ireland boss will likely choose to bring Glenn Whelan back into his team in place of Ward, moving Robbie Brady back to full back; a position from which he caused the Poles difficulty in Dublin.
On the opposite side it would be a real boost for the Boys in Green if Seamus Coleman was deemed fit enough to start ahead of Cyrus Christie - even after the Derby County player’s good performance against the World Champions. Sunday is Coleman’s 27th birthday and he wants more than a play-off for his present. If Ireland get a win he might end up getting the bumps like managers Michael O’Neill and Stephen Kenny received in the last few days.
The 3,500 travelling Irish fans will be jumping for joy if the Boys in Green on the pitch can promote themselves beyond just a play-off and earn the coveted automatic qualification spot.
If it is to be a play-off then there may have to be yellow card tightrope walking to be carried out by some of the players. Coleman, McCarthy and Walters and as well as Wilson will miss the first leg of any play-off if they pick up a yellow card in Poland, so if Ireland finish third they will be hoping Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir, who officiated this year’s Champions League final, keeps his cards in his pocket.
Ireland (probable): Darren Randolph (West Ham United); Seamus Coleman (Everton), John O'Shea (Sunderland), Richard Keogh (Derby County), Robbie Brady (Norwich City); Jon Walters (Stoke City), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), James McCarthy (Everton), Jeff Hendrick (Hull City); Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City); Shane Long (Southampton).
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey).
The sides have met 26 times but only three times in competitive action. Outside of the friendlies, neither side has won a game. The three competitive ties have all been in European Championship qualifiers. The teams played out a 1-1 draw in Dublin last year with the two qualifiers in 1991 ending 3-3 in Poznan and 0-0 in Dublin. Ovearall Poland has had the better results in the games between the sides, winning ten of those matches, along with 10 draws. It was 0-0 when they last met in Poland, which was a friendly played in Poznan in November 2013.
Ireland and Poland are two of the 11 teams that have played in all 14 qualifying phases for the European Championship. The Republic of Ireland’s record of 35 drawn qualifiers is more than any other country.
Robbie Keane is the highest scorer in European Championship qualifying history with 23 goals ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Hakan Sukur who both have 20 goals. Robert Lewandowski is the top scorer for the Poles with 13 goals.
Poland 10/11; Draw 23/10; Ireland 10/3.
Injured: Arkadiusz Milik, Maciej Rybus.
Doubtful: Tomasz Jodlowiec.
Injured: Shay Given, Stephen Ward, Stephen Quinn, Ciaran Clark, Harry Arter.
Doubtful: Stephen Ward.
Extratime.ie will be covering the Group D clash between Poland and Ireland from Warsaw. Our reporter Macdara Ferris will be in the Stadion Narodowy to take us through the match build-up, including Saturday’s pre-match press conferences, and the game itself. For Martin O'Neill's full thoughts on the game see here,with Shane Long's view here, along with our match preview here.