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Monday 18 December 2017

Poles have shifted the goalposts in Group D

Historic victory in Warsaw throws Group D wide open

Arkadiusz Milik celebrates with Kamil Grosicki after scoring Poland's opening goal in their Euro 2016 qualifier against Germany in Warsaw. Photo: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images
Arkadiusz Milik celebrates with Kamil Grosicki after scoring Poland's opening goal in their Euro 2016 qualifier against Germany in Warsaw. Photo: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

WELL nobody expected that. Suddenly, Poland have changed the landscape of Ireland's qualifying campaign and Gelsenkirchen becomes a much more significant fixture.

Before Poland did what they did on Saturday night, the consensus thinking was that the trip to Germany was about restoring some pride and If by some minor miracle a point was purloined, Martin O'Neil would head for Glasgow with a skip in his step and a French phrase book in his overnight bag.

After shipping nine goals with just one in response during the Brazil 2014 qualifying series, a decent 90 minutes was the very minimum expected. But even with that, nobody expected such a performance would offer even a point.

But now, Germany are back with the pack and a team which has lost a chunk of the talent which matured over a decade to the point where victory in a World Cup final was possible, is now on the back foot and in need of a result against Ireland.

Worse than that, the Poles are in a seriously strong position for the runners-up spot at least. They probably budgeted for a draw in that game so they've effectively got two bonus points.

Germany started against Poland with four different names in place from the eleven Low sent out to meet Argentina at the Maracana and one of them was André Schurrle who came on after a half-hour for Cristian Kramer in Rio.

So seven World Cup winners and no Lahm, no Schweinsteiger, no Ozil and no Howedes. But still plenty you would have thought.

Perhaps Scotland's result last month was not a freak and maybe Germany will have to get down and dirty with the rest of us.

This is probably not a good thing. At some point in the next 18 months, Low will get it right with Germany. From those who started in Warsaw only Karim Bellaribi and Antonio Rudiger didn't make the trip to Brazil.

Low may have lost some key elements of his team but he still has 19 of the 23 he travelled with in June and July and few would doubt the Bundesliga's capacity to fill in the gaps.

In other words, by the time Germany get to Dublin next year, it is reasonable to expect them to be playing better than they are now.

All of that said, Martin O'Neill can only do what he does. He won the first game away from home and ticked a box and now he has matched Poland's score against Gibraltar and ticked another.

The trick will be to do what Scotland did for 70 minutes in Dortmund last month and hang on where they could not. That would tick a half dozen boxes.

Saturday evening's entertainment at the Aviva was pale enough but there were plenty of goals, some decent football and Robbie Keane tagged another hat-trick and a new record to his already lengthy CV.

Now the top scorer in European Championship qualifying history, he put the part-timers away with a rat-tat-tat in 17 minutes flat and yet even after that, a doubt emerged about whether O'Neill will use him against Germany.

It's one thing to cut loose against an insurance salesman, another thing entirely to try and nutmeg Manfred Neuer.

It is hard to be that critical of Ireland in a game they were always going to win but delivered a bunch of goals which, as O'Neill said before the game, is not something we are used to.

But there were a few very worrying moments. The sight of John O'Shea turning like an overburdened tractor trailer while the always nippy Lee Casciaro danced a jig around him was not encouraging.

Nor was a similarly ungainly retreat by Stephen Ward when faced by the same player. O'Neill's purgatory is his defence and in that regard his experiment with David Meyler cannot be judged on this game.

Meyler had nothing to do defensively which would have taxed any Ireland right-full. Indeed, Paddy Mulligan would have coasted through the game last night and we're talking about the 2014 vintage here.

Al this game did was give Robbie a boost, Ireland's overall points total a lift and until Poland threw away the script, eased the apprehension everyone felt about the next game on the list.

Both Scotland and Poland scored against Germany and it is impossible to believe that Ireland will escape from there with a point without scoring,

O'Neill must now bounce around his mind the notion that he won't start against Germany with Keane but on balance, it is very difficult to see how h can leave him out.

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