Robert Lewandowski’s excellent assist for Karol Swiderski condemned Wales to Nations League relegation on Sunday night in Cardiff, as the hosts signed off for their trip to the World Cup with a defeat.
Wales have ended their Nations League campaign with one point from six games in a group which also contained the Netherlands and Belgium, with valuable experience given to a number of youngsters as qualification for Qatar took priority for the most part in this group.
They started their final game before the tournament without the absent midfield pair of Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen in central midfield, but an early high press and plenty of energy set the wheels in motion. A fan in front of the press box fancied getting involved too, trying his damnedest to head the ball back onto the pitch following a block by Brennan Johnson. He actually managed it too.
The first half was perhaps shaded by Poland in terms of territory and control, but Wales saw the better opportunities. Daniel James spurned the best chance of the opening 45 after a clearance fell into his path, and when it’s James in a foot race there’s usually only one winner.
He carried the ball into the box but could only hit his attempt at Wojciech Szczesny, when perhaps rolling the ball across to Brennan Johnson was the better option.
Johnson himself nearly scored towards the end of the first half when an attempt of his trickled agonisingly wide of the post. The closest Poland came to scoring came from Welsh goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, who nearly allowed Joe Rodon’s back pass to roll through him and over the line. He just about spared his own blushes.
Poland rolled into the lead just before the hour mark after one piece of rare quality in the match carved Wales open – unsurprisingly courtesy of Lewandowski. His one touch flick in behind played through Swiderski who slotted home.
Wales brought on Kieffer Moore and switched systems in immediate reaction, and carried more of a threat with Gareth Bale dropping into the hole in behind. Johnson was heavily involved in their attacking play from wide on the right, and again saw another attempt fall just wide. James on the opposite flank provided more of a threat for the final 25 minutes too, often beating his defender.
The hosts piled on the pressure in the closing stages and a Bale header hit the crossbar in injury time, but Wales will need to pull out better performances than this in Qatar.
GK: Wayne Hennessey – 6/10 – Would have been quite something if he hadn’t have managed to retrieve the back pass that nearly trickled over the goal-line because of his mis-control. Could do nothing about the goal.
RCB: Ben Cabango – 6/10 – Wanted to write that he kept Lewandowski in his pocket, but that would be a lie.
CB: Joe Rodon – 6/10 – Not his finest hour tonight.
LCB: Rhys Norrington-Davies – 6/10 – Carried the ball out of defence well and looked comfortable on the whole. Substituted right after Poland scored.
RWB: Connor Roberts – 6/10 – Good energy throughout the night as ever – in both directions – but no telling contributions in an attacking sense.
CM: Joe Morrell – 6/10 – Industrious but passing left a little to be desired.
CM: Dylan Levitt – 6/10 – Tough night for the two midfielders who struggled for control against the opposition. Replaced by Colwill.
LWB: Neco Williams – 7/10 – Always carries a threat with his ability to beat opposition players. Not his best night but one of Wales’ better showings.
RW: Brennan Johnson – 8/10 – There’s just such excitement whenever he gets the ball. Unpredictable and quick with brilliant technique, but as evidenced at times, can make better decisions. Unlucky not to score in both halves.
FW: Gareth Bale – 6/10 – Largely ineffectual through the middle but far more involved when dropping into the 10 role following Moore’s introduction. Unfortunately that only came about when Wales fell behind. Came close to an equaliser in injury time as his header hit the bar.
LW: Daniel James – 6/10 – Did the Dan James thing where he runs clean through on goal & shot straight at the keeper just after the half hour. Came close in the second after a teasing cross nearly found its way past Szczesny. Much more of a threat after Wales switched systems.
SUB: Kieffer Moore – 5/10 – Booked for being tall, as is tradition.
SUB: Rubin Colwill – 6/10 – Not a central midfielder but offered more of a threat than Levitt in the centre as you’d expect as Wales chased the game.
SUB: Sorba Thomas – 6/10 – Cross in injury time nearly led to an equaliser for Bale.