Battling Poles Nick Crucial Point in Injury Time

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Poland 1-1 England

  • England conceded a stoppage-time Damian Szymański header as they were denied all three points in Warsaw
  • Harry Kane had scored a terrific opener, but Poland stole a draw from this fraught occasion

It certainly keeps your attention. Just when England were looking like they had turned the page after their Euros heartache, Poland showed Gareth Southgate’s side they still have work to do. Right at the very end of a prickly and feisty affair at Stadion Narodowy, Robert Lewandowski crossed for a Damian Szymański header that cancelled out Harry Kane’s long-range cracker. England are still well in control of their World Cup qualifying group, but now Albania are their closest chasers — although Poland kept themselves in contention here.

This was a night that was as frustrating as it was disappointing for England. Ever since the opening exchanges when German referee Daniel Siebert gave a harsh yellow to Kalvin Phillips, the Three Lions felt unfairly treated. Much of their barking and gesticulating was understandable. Siebert did not have a good game. There were corners and throw-ins and goal-kicks given the wrong way, and when the wound-up centre-back Kamil Glik confronted Harry Maguire and bizarrely tugged on the beard of Kyle Walker, it caused a stern coming-together between most of the players ahead of the break. Siebert was not in control and simply gave a yellow each to Glik and Maguire.

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But England must take responsibility too. Gareth Southgate’s decision not to make a single substitution will be debated this way and that, but poor decision-making from England players meant the ball often laboured from left to right, without direction, without invention, and without ever looking like finding its way past former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny.

Poland’s talisman Robert Lewandowski had the best opportunity of the first-period, although his attempted loft over Jordan Pickford was much too delicate and the goalkeeper gathered with ease. After the interval, it was England who posed the bigger threat. Would the hosts tire and England blitz their opponents as happened last week in Budapest?

Unlike the Hungarians, Poland did not collapse defensively. They were so sturdy, in fact, that England’s attempts to score a goal round the back or in-behind were in vain. So Harry Kane picked the ball up outside the box and instead of spreading wide, he struck it cleanly on goal. Forcing the issue.

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The ball swerved at the last to evade the desperate dive of Szczęsny. It made it three goals from three in this international break for Kane, and looked like it might well preserve England’s 100% win record in the group.

Poland, who England beat in March, knew that a defeat would realistically end their hopes of finishing above England in the only automatic qualification place. As a disjointed England looked to hold out what would have been a just-about merited away victory, Poland’s substitutes added a freshness on the counter that Southgate’s players would have to negate. But once Kyle Walker was bypassed far too easy out wide by Jakub Moder, England found themselves in a perilous position as Lewandowski picked the ball up unmarked.

His clipped delivery was beckoning for a planted header. Sub Damian Szymański applied the finish to end England’s run of wins on the road to Qatar.

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Southgate named an identical lineup to that which hammered Hungary in Budapest on Thursday. It took late goals to canter past the Hungarians, and to add some glamour to an otherwise stodgy win over Andorra on Sunday, so England could have been forgiven for expecting they’d do the same in Warsaw. Instead, Poland stuck to the task — happy to be the counter-attacking side if it meant finding space and manufacturing chances. Szymański actioned that with his 92nd-minute equaliser.

In many ways, it was a match reminiscent of England’s penalty shootout victory over Colombia at the 2018 World Cup. Colombia picked up six yellow cards that night; Poland earned five tonight. There were countless fouls on England players in both games, and the refereeing was less than stellar in both.

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England were able to prevail from that Colombia match, reaching the quarter-final by winning their first World Cup penalty shootout. Such a resolution was not possible here, but England’s quality will hold out in the end. They will qualify automatically for the finals in Qatar, and, despite an impressive draw on the night, Poland will have to hope for a playoff spot.

An irritating night for perfectionists, England. Their attention will already have moved to return legs against Andorra and Hungary next month.

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