Czeslaw Michniewicz reminded today’s decisive clash between Poland and Argentina was not a tennis match but a football contest between two sides vying for a place in the last 16 of the World Cup.
Despite Poland coach’s desperate plea, there is little doubt the two team’s future in the tournament will hinge on their star players’ performances at Stadium 974.
Argentina’s left-footed magician Lionel Messi, vying for that elusive title in what most likely is his fifth and final World Cup, will be up against Robert Lewandowski, the Polish scoring-machine plotting an upset against the Group C favourites. The two players may vary in style but are worth their weight in gold for their teams and will have to play a crucial role if Argentina or Poland need to qualify for the last 16.
Poland, who have not reached the knockout stage since 1986, they go through with a win or a draw against Argentina. A loss would still keep them in fray, if Saudi Arabia doesn’t beat Mexico. Argentina, on the other hand, must beat Poland to be sure of going through, while a draw will be enough if Saudi Arabia and Mexico draw.
“It’s not Messi vs Lewandowski — it’s not tennis, it’s not one-on-one. They’re not serving to each other,” Michniewicz said, offering other sports as a reference in his press conference at the Qatar National Convention Centre yesterday. “Robert needs his teammates, like Leo does. They rely on their teammates. They can’t do this alone, although these individual players can do a lot themselves.”
Michniewicz then switched to skiing and compared Messi to Alberto Tomba, the Italian skier from the 1980s and ’90s who won Olympic gold medals in slalom and giant slalom. It was an impressive rhetoric from the Polish coach, who was just highlighting his team’s mammoth task of keeping Messi quiet in today’s game.
“Messi behaves on the pitch like Alberto Tomba on the slopes,” Michniewicz said. “He is able to avoid everyone, like Alberto Tomba was able to get around everything. So we need to put players around Messi. If he is able to ride through everyone, we won’t be able to stop him.”
Like Messi, the 34-year-old Lewandowski is also his nation’s all-time top scorer, on possibly his last mission at a World Cup. He uncharacteristically missed a penalty in Poland’s opening draw with Mexico before scoring his first ever World Cup goal in their 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia. “He is a top player and it will be a privilege and pleasure to see him from up close as a football fan,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said. “Is he at the same level as Messi? You just have to enjoy such a good player. Why compare one player with another? That’s not helpful.”
Argentina have won six out of their 11 games against Poland, while the Poles won the last time the sides met in 2011 in a friendly. But 35-year-old Messi and his teammates have huffed and puffed to stay alive in the competition, having come into Qatar on an unbeaten 36-game run. After suffering one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history at the hands of Saudi Arabia in their opening game, the two-time champions beat Mexico thanks largely to Messi’s goal and his assist for Enzo Fernandez.
Scaloni has been under attack in his home country for his team selection. The 44-year-old coach has been criticised for not playing Juventus midfielder Leandro Paredes against Mexico, where Scaloni made five changes.
“Leandro has always been with us and the consideration is the highest, we love him a lot. He’s always been involved, just because he doesn’t play at times doesn’t mean we don’t trust him,” said Scaloni, before adding he had complete confidence in his 26-man squad regardless of who he decides to start.
Scaloni said he is yet to decide his final line-up for today’s match. “We’re expecting a difficult match. Poland are a team that at times close well in the box and also create situations for you in the box. We have to see who is playing. It’s different depending on who is there. Our idea is quite clear. We’ll try to defend set pieces with concentration.”
Scaloni said their stuttering World Cup campaign was now in the past and all that mattered was the match against Poland and a spot in the last 16. “For us the most important game is the one we are about to play. Whatever happened is in the past and remains there.”
Meanwhile, defender Lisandro Martinez said Argentina was yet to peak in the tournament. “We know what we are capable of. We can play better and we know we have not reached our best level yet. But we are trying,” said Martinez.
“We have to be well organised so they don’t get us on the counter-attack,” added the Manchester United defender on the threat Lewandowski’s poses.
ARGENTINA vs POLAND
When: Today, 6pm
Where: Stadium 974
• Poland have kept a clean sheet in their last three World Cup matches, including both in 2022.
• Poland won four of their first seven World Cup games against South American sides (L3) but lost each of their last three in the competition without scoring a single goal.
• Argentina lost their last two World Cup games against European nations – Croatia (3-0) and France (4-3) in 2018.
• Poland will advance with at least a draw, while Argentina may also advance with a draw depending on the result of the other group game.
• This is the third time Poland and Argentina will meet at the World Cup. Poland won 3-2 in 1974 and Argentina won 2-0 four years later. Argentina have won six of their 11 meetings overall, with Poland winning three. The teams last played an international friendly in June 2011, which Poland won 2-1.
Mexico captain Guardado defends Messi after Alvarez threat
Doha: Mexico captain Andres Guardado has defended Lionel Messi after boxer Canelo Alvarez issued a threat to the Argentine having taken offence at a video appearing to show the striker nudging away a Mexico jersey on the floor with his foot.
Messi scored in Argentina’s 2-0 win over Mexico at the World Cup on Saturday and Mexican Alvarez, who has around 2.2mn followers on Twitter, said the striker “should ask God that I don’t find him” having taken offence at the video. But the 36-year-old Guardado, who is playing in his fifth World Cup, said he saw nothing out of the ordinary himself.
“It’s an agreement with the props: when you leave everything sweaty on the floor it’s all to wash,” Guardado told reporters. “I’ve had the fortune and the privilege of facing Messi for many years in Spain… I know the person he is. Unfortunately, maybe Canelo doesn’t understand what it’s like in a dressing room.”
Mexico must win their final Group C match against Saudi Arabia today to have any chance of reaching the last 16 in Qatar.