Saturday 16 December 2017

'Ireland game will be a scrap for us'

Lewandowski's ready for Lansdowne battle

AS A man who has been a Champions League regular, first with Borussia Dortmund and more recently Bayern Munich, Robert Lewandowski dines at the top table.

He's still only 26 but has already scored more goals in the European Cup/Champions League than any Irishman in history and for him, tactical intrigues against Europe's finest are the norm.

This week, the focus for key Ireland players David Forde and James McClean is to prevent their clubs from dropping into the third tier of the English game while Lewandowski has his hungry eyes on another prize, the Champions League (he was previously a beaten finalists with Dortmund).

But culture goes out the window as the elegant forward is already gearing himself up for a battle on Sunday week when Poland come to Dublin with three vital points in the Euro 2016 qualifiers at stake.

He enjoyed his first visit to Dublin, when he scored the key goal in a 3-2 win over Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland in 2008, though his second trip here (a 2-0 loss in 2013) was not so memorable.

Both nations know that a loss in Dublin could cause serious damage to their hopes of making it to France, which is why Lewandowski is already talking up the physical side of what's to come next week.

"Of course it's going to be a hard game," says the Bayern man.

"Ireland are not a technical team, and we are going to have to battle with them for every centimetre of the pitch. In this group, you are going to have to scrap for every single point."

Polish football is having something of a battle of its own at the moment, after coach Adam Nawalka last week named his squad and opted to leave out veteran winger Jakub 'Kuba' Blaszczykowski.

A former team-mate at Dortmund, the free-scoring winger (Blaszczykowski has scored more international goals than any of the current Ireland squad bar Robbie Keane) has not played for the national team since a 0-0 draw with Ireland in 2013. The then captain seems to be still unhappy that after he regained fitness following injury he did not get back the captain's armband, which stayed on Lewandowski's arm.

Just as Trapattoni's squad announcements were often dominated by debate over of who was not in (Stephen Ireland, Andy Reid), the omission of 'Kuba' has been the talk of Poland but Lewandowski tries to stay out of the war.

"It's a matter between the coach and Kuba," says Lewandowski.

"There's no point in dragging it out or looking for conflict. We just have to focus on the fact that we have have to play well against Ireland.

"We have a good squad, if we have injuries, we have players on the bench who can come in and do what's needed, if we need them.

"The manager has a vision and he knows how to get everything in order. We have to be as well prepared as possible, regardless of whether there are injuries or whether someone's not in the squad Everyone is focused on the game, the atmosphere is good. We know what the aim is."

Having flopped at Euro 2008 and again in 2012, Lewandowski and his pals now seem to be up for the fight for 2016.

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