Lewandowski takes on less glamorous role for solid Poland
By John Irish
MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - It is a measure of the importance of captain Robert Lewandowski to Poland that the striker is the first name coach Adam Nawalka writes on the team sheet despite his goal drought at Euro 2016.
Most forwards who go more than 10 hours without scoring would be warming the bench and facing criticism from the media and fans.
But the Bayern Munich striker will be a key part of Poland's efforts to defeat Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in Thursday's quarter-final in Marseille.
After scoring 13 goals in the qualifying, Lewandowski's statistics in his first four games in France make disappointing reading: no goals, two attempts on target, three attempts off target and three blocked attempts.
His best chance in the opening minutes against Ukraine flew
over the crossbar. Beyond a second chance in that game when he
turned his defender and shot just wide, he was barely inside the penalty area.
Against Switzerland in the last 16, he never looked like scoring.
But asked whether the team was concerned about their captain's failure to hit the target, goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski said: "No, we're not worried at all. You've got to say Robert does his job as well."
That job is a little different from the role he plays at Bayern Munich where he is surrounded by big names such as Thomas Mueller and Mario Goetze and a culture of attacking football.
For Poland, Lewandowski is the heartbeat of a team which, although full of energy and collective spirit, does not have a creative playmaker.
It focuses on defending, and, apart from a wonder goal by Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri, the defence has not been breached. Even the free-flowing world champions Germany never
looked like scoring when the two sides met in the groups stages.
As the leader, Lewandowski works for the team as a defensive number 10, rather than battling to get himself a goal. It is less glamorous but certainly effective.
Against Northern Ireland and Germany in the group stages, he dropped off to collect the ball and defended from the
front, tracking back and chasing down opposition midfielders. Against Switzerland, his harrying could be seen throughout.
"Even in the first minute of the game against Switzerland,
we created something from his pressure, that put them under a
stressful situation," Fabianski said.
"That's what he gives us. Even though we're not creating as much as we would like for him."
Lewandowski's labours have created more space for partner Arkadiusz Milik, whose crisp finish against Northern Ireland won the game, and for his former Dortmund club mate Jakub Blaszczykowski who has netted twice so far.
"It's a great responsibility. When I first put on the
armband, I didn't know that this small accessory could make such
a big difference," Lewandowski said.
"You need to know how to cope with it. Not many people know how much commitment and effort is required, not just physical, but also mental."
(Reporting By John Irish. Editing by Adrian Warner.)