Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the sharpest of them all? On Wednesday night, all eyes at Stadium 974 will be inexorably drawn to football’s version of a beauty contest: Can Lionel Messi’s rich attacking gifts guide Argentina to the knockout stage or Robert’s incredible efficiency? Can Lewandowski in front of goal allow Poland to eclipse the group? C favorites?
“We count on these great strikers but an individual cannot win alone,” Poland head coach Czesław Michniewicz said on Tuesday. “But it’s not just a battle between Lewandowski and Messi – it’s not tennis, it’s not one on one, they don’t serve! Robert needs his teammates, just like Leo.
Nevertheless, Michniewicz, whose side top Group C with a one-point lead over Argentina, compares the South American team’s talisman to the famous Italian alpine ski champion of the 80s and 90s, Alberto fell. “During our team briefing, we talked about Alberto Tomba on the track; he was able to avoid everyone,” the 52-year-old said. “So I have to put my players in positions to make a difference because otherwise Messi will score easily. It takes more than one person to stop him.
The similarities between Tomba’s technical excellence in slalom and the PSG striker’s elusive attacking maneuvers have led Polish players to debate how to stop ‘Messi from dancing between the posts’ as they ponder the best way to stop him leading the Argentine dressing room in a celebratory post-match jig. of joy.
So how, precisely, can they contain a player who has scored 93 goals in 167 international appearances? Michniewicz became realistic and rhetorical. “Playing against Argentina you have to be prepared when you concede and avoid panicking when it happens,” he said. “How to stop Messi is a great question. The world has been thinking about it for several years and I don’t think we will find an answer. At 35, he says it’s his last World Cup, so I expect that be very ambitious.
At 34, Lewandowski admits it could be his swan song too, and Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni certainly doesn’t underestimate the threat posed by a centre-forward who believes he has a habit of eating desserts before main courses and to protect his slightly stronger right foot. sleeping on the left side, helped make him Poland’s top scorer with 77 goals in 136 games.
“Lewandowski is a top player,” Scaloni said emphatically. He may not agree with the idea that dessert helps burn fat, but he also appreciates the danger that “Lewangoalski” could pose to his team on a night when they could demand victory to guarantee the progress. “As a football fan, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to see Robert up close. You have to enjoy such a great player… but we will be prepared for him.
Lewandowski’s goal in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia – incredibly the Barcelona striker’s first at a World Cup – left Poland demanding a point at most to reach the knockout stage. direct elimination. Argentina, meanwhile, remain slightly in shock following their 2-1 Group C opener loss to Saudi Arabia. Scaloni would certainly need Messi to add to the penalty he scored against the Saudis and the goal he netted in the rather more reassuring 2-0 win over Mexico.
“I know that all of Argentina is counting on Messi,” Michniewicz said. “We will respect him but we will still believe we can win.”
Considering Argentina had gone 36 games unbeaten before slipping against Saudi Arabia, that may be a tall order, but Lisandro Martínez, Scaloni’s Manchester United defender, didn’t seem too confident.
“Poland are a very tough opponent and Lewandowski is a top player,” he said. “Lewandowski moves so well, he is so dynamic. We know we have to stay focused throughout the 90 minutes.
“But we have to have confidence in ourselves and in our football. We were very anxious before the game against Mexico because we knew it was all or nothing. We know what we are capable of but we also know that we don’t have haven’t reached our best yet. But we’re trying. We have to stay calm, give it our all and show the style we’re known for.
The Messi/Lewandowski subplot is amplified by the pair’s careers having often followed parallel lines. Despite being a very different type of striker, the Polish captain effectively replaced Messi at Camp Nou after the latter left for PSG. still be united for a last hurrah in Barcelona.
“When Messi was there, I went to Barca so many times to see him,” says Michniewicz. “We should all be delighted to play against him in a game where the stakes are high. It’s a wonderful time – but I want to leave happy.