England face Poland in a must-win World Cup qualifier on Tuesday – so we look at the five men who could consign Roy Hodgson’s boys to the dreaded play-offs.
Robert Lewandowski (striker, 25): 58 caps, 18 goals
Borussia Dortmund star Lewandowski is the obvious danger man. His goal-scoring antics for club and, to a lesser extent, country mean he is joining the all-conquering Bayern Munich this coming summer. Strong, quick and technically gifted, he is a natural finisher and is one of the top five strikers in Europe. Less prolific for Poland as the service is not as good, but England will have to guard him carefully anyway. Expect Phil Jagielka to be given a man-marking brief.
Jakub Blaszczykowski (midfielder, 27): 65 caps, 14 goals
The captain and leader, ‘Kuba’ as he is known also plays for Dortmund. With great drive and determination, he is a goal-scoring winger who covers a lot of ground and makes dangerous runs inside from the right. Works exceptionally with Lewandowski, and Leighton Baines will have his defensive work cut out if England are to keep a clean sheet.
Artur Boruc (goalkeeper, 33): 55 caps
The former Celtic keeper is undergoing a career revival at Southampton, conceding only two Premier League goals this season and returning to the national team after a three-year absence. ‘Holy goalie’ Boruc has done so well he is keeping Arsenal pair Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski out of the team, and his eccentric personality is reminiscent of another Polish goalkeeper – a certain Jan Tomaszewski…
Piotr Zielinski (midfielder, 19): 5 caps, 3 goals
Udinese attacking midfielder Zielinski burst onto the international scene with the winning goal in the 3-2 victory over Denmark in a friendly this August. He also hit a brace against San Marino last month and could be handed a start as outgoing coach Waldemar Fornalik looks to go out with a bang. A tricky playmaker with good close control and an eye for goal, he is a star for the future and could cause England problems.
The 12th man
This clash is being billed as something of a home game for the Poles, in part because of the large Polish community in London (a community that is heavily biased towards young men), and in part because the FA decided to give the ‘away’ contingent an extra 10,000 tickets for ‘safety reasons’. This means there will be around 18,000 official Poland fans at Wembley, congregated in one area, and probably a few thousand more dotted around the general seating and corporate areas. Discounting the prawn-sandwich brigade, this gives the Poles a good third of the crowd – and with that likely to be comprised of up-for-it lads, don’t be surprised if they’re noisier than the English.