Poland coach: Strachan’s Scots put brain before brawn

Poland's captain and talismanic striker Robert Lewandowski, right, shares a joke with midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak. Picture: SNS
Poland's captain and talismanic striker Robert Lewandowski, right, shares a joke with midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak. Picture: SNS
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WHEN Adam Nawalka played in the last Polish team to defeat Scotland all of 35 years ago, he faced a side laced with some of the best players in Europe at the time.

Kenny Dalglish, Joe Jordan, Danny McGrain, Willie Miller and Gordon Strachan – to name just a handful – were in the Scottish line-up beaten 1-0 by the Poles in that Poznan friendly back in May 1980.

So Nawalka, now in charge of the Polish squad who could qualify for the Euro 2016 finals by beating Strachan’s men at Hampden tonight, is well qualified to judge the current standard of Scottish opposition standing in their way.

The 57-year-old, who as an accomplished midfielder played for his country at the 1978 World Cup finals, is dismissive of the cliched notion that Scotland currently present more of a physical than a technical challenge.

Nawalka appears genuinely respectful of the manner in which the Scots have gone about their business in what has proved a devilishly difficult Group D campaign so far.

“The key asset of the Scottish team is that they do well as a team,” said Nawalka. “They play collectively and are very disciplined.

“They are very creative, they don’t play in the traditional British way. They don’t play long balls, they are very constructive from defence and throughout their team.

“If you look at them from a global perspective, they play a very advanced European game. We certainly think of them as a very difficult team to face.”

Amid the fall-out from the 2-2 draw between the sides in Warsaw last year, much has been made of the perceived overly-physical approach Scotland’s defence took to dealing with Poland’s captain and free- scoring talisman Robert Lewandowski.

Nawalka remained unmoved by this narrative at Poland’s pre-match media conference yesterday, although he did stress his players will be no shrinking violets if the occasion demands more robust tactics.

“Of course we need to be prepared for a good fight, for aggressive play,” he added. “In these final stages of the qualifiers we need to be prepared for this but also hope that skills will be more important.

“We hope we will be in control of the game. We will try to play the ball as we like to play it. We are certainly anticipating a very difficult game with lots of energy and fight.

“We have our plan, we have our tactics. We feel prepared on the psychological side of things as well as the technical side. We will not give away our secrets but we think we know what we need to do to do well in this game.

“We know we have a very well organised team, both in an offensive and defensive sense.

“We have a lot of high quality players and a strong team. The key message for us is the quality of our team performance.

“With Robert Lewandowski’s recent performances, there will inevitably be questions from the media about him all the time but we like to focus on other aspects of the game.

“Of course Robert is a very important player for us, he is the key player for us.

“He has a lot of different skills, leadership qualities and he gives a lot of energy to the other players in our squad.

“But a lot of our team members also do their job the best they can and are all very important to us. The atmosphere within the team is very good. They keep improving and that’s the foundation for the future of our team.”

That future will be taking them to France next summer if they beat Scotland tonight and Republic of Ireland fail to defeat Germany in Dublin.

There is a sense in Poland that Nawalka’s squad, boasting many players who ply their trade with leading European clubs, could be on the verge of a new golden age for a country which could lay claim to one of the world’s finest national teams in the 1970s.

But the canny Nawalka is mindful of a scenario which could still see his men miss out on the Euro 2016 finals if they were to lose at Hampden ahead of their final group game at home to the Irish on Sunday.

“We need to be careful here, we need more time for such considerations,” was Nawalka’s response to the enthused Polish journalists.

“Yes, if you look at the clubs where our players are now, it already tells you a story. But we are focused on Thursday night’s game in the first place. We need to be the best we can against Scotland.

“If we qualify, we are aware of the possibilities for this team, but there is still more work ahead of us.”