With four of the Republic of Ireland’s next five games at home, the arrival of group leaders Poland to Dublin offers a serious question to the Boys in Green’s qualifying credentials. Ireland have won three of their last four competitive games at the Aviva Stadium while Poland are unbeaten in Group D and shocked world champions Germany with a 2-0 home victory last October. With the stakes so high, we take a look at five of the potential game-changers ahead of the massive Euro 2016 clash.
Everton are enduring something of a torrid season but Seamus Coleman was on target in the Toffees’ last Premier League game against QPR to come into the Poland game with a confidence boost. The Donegalman had an explosive start to life in England earning the Young Player of the Year nomination and has often being bestowed the title of best full-back in the top flight. Quite ridiculously, Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni chose not to bring Coleman to Euro 2012 at all. Under Martin O’Neill we’ve yet to really see the 26-year-old’s attacking prowess but it says something about the lack of incisive quality in the Irish squad that the defender is arguably our biggest offensive threat outside our strikers. Coleman has scored five times for Everton this season including twice during their Europa League run. He missed the games with Georgia and Germany while the war of attrition in Glasgow hardly afforded him the chance to consistently attack. With Ireland expected to take the game to Poland at home, much hope will be pinned on Coleman’s ability to raid down the flanks.
Robbie Keane was benched for Ireland’s loss to Scotland with Long given the chance to lead the line. His move to Southampton hasn’t resulted in a hot streak of goals but, like Coleman, Long was on the scoresheet at the weekend in time for linking up with the Irish squad. The 28-year-old has five goals at club level this season though he has often been deployed on the wing. A couple of glaring misses in one-on-one situations in the last qualifying campaign has some people questioning his finishing but they’ve tended to stand out because of Ireland’s struggle to consistently create chances. If Long loses out to Keane in the starting line-up, he’ll be the one we turn to should things not go according to plan against the Poles.
The newest call-up to the Irish squad, Bournemouth’s Harry Arter will attract much interest especially if O’Neill gambles and introduces him against Poland. The midfielder has eight goals for the Championship leaders and was on target in last weekend’s top of the table win over Middlesbrough. The 25-year-old has played underage for the Republic and has been monitored by the senior management for some time. He has 40 appearances for the Cherries this season and as one of the form Irish players, could be flung it at the deep end at the weekend. It’s a big ask to step up from the Championship to international level but it’s not as if the Irish team hasn’t asked that of others. With an eye for the spectacular, Arter might offer a spark we’ve not seen before.
The Polish talisman has 16 goals this season at club level as a relentless Bayern Munich continue their assault on three fronts, the Bundesliga, German Pokal, and Champions League. The 26-year-old scored four times in Poland’s 7-0 rout of Gibraltar and has 23 international goals to his name in 66 appearances. He finished as top scorer in the Bundesliga in 2014 for Borussia Dortmund, where he won two league titles. Lewandowski netted 103 goals in 187 appearances for Dortmund, including four in the 2013 Champions League semi-final win over Real Madrid, before signing for Pep Guardiola’s side at the start of this season. Despite a commendable tally to date, Lewandowski’s form in a Bayern shirt has been slightly patchy. Perhaps because Munich have been posting cricket scores in games where the striker has netted, it might appear he is not playing such a starring role in a team of stars. For Poland, however, he is very much the main man.
The rising star of the Polish team, Milik scored the opening goal in the stunning win over Germany last October. The 20-year-old, on loan with Ajax from Bayer Leverkusen, also netted six goals in a 9-0 Dutch Cup win last year and has 11 goals so far this season for the Amsterdam giants. Milik made his senior Polish debut in 2012 against South Africa while also grabbing headlines by netting back to back hat-tricks for the U21 team in games against Malta and Greece. He was on target in the qualifier with Georgia last November and scored again four days later in the friendly draw with Switzerland. Ominously for Ireland, a week ago he bagged a brace for Ajax in a 4-1 win over Heerenveen. In Milik and Lewandowski, Poland boast a formidable forward pair.
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