Two goals from two substitutes in the final 20 minutes earned Poland a 2-1 victory over Cymru in the opening match of the UEFA Nations League in Wrocław on Wednesday despite an impressive performance from Rob Page's experimental side.
Poland 2-1 Cymru
UEFA NATIONS LEAGUE - LEAGUE A - GROUP A4
- Wednesday, 1 June 2022
- Tarczynski Arena Wrocław, Wrocław
Cymru started positively despite the unfamiliar starting line-up and looked comfortable in possession, but Poland's quick passing in the final third did cause some early concerns for Rob Page. Piotr Zieliński caused an early scare but he failed to convert from close-range as his header went wide, while at the other end Dylan Levitt saw his effort saved by debutant goalkeeper Kamil Grabara.
Kamil Glik shot over the bar for the home side after 10 minutes, and goalkeeper Danny Ward then had to be at his best to make an impressive save from Robert Lewandowski. Wes Burns was impressing on his senior debut when his fine volley was deflected wide midway through the opening half as his confidence shone through before Dan James dragged his shot narrowly wide at the near post.
Cymru had to defend in numbers to frustrate Poland in the final third, while it was James who caused problems for the home side as his pace in attack complimented Kieffer Moore's height and strength, but it was Poland that should have gone ahead just before half-time as Buksa failed to convert a cross from close range.
Page made a triple change at half-time as Wayne Hennessey replaced Ward in goal and the forward line of James and Moore made way for Rabbi Matondo and Mark Harris. The change was always likely to change the dynamic in attack after an impressive opening half, but Matondo immediately showed that his pace would cause problems for the Polish defence as he enjoyed some early possession and that continued throughout the second half.
On 52 minutes, Jonny Williams scored his second international goal as he struck a superb swerving effort from the edge of the area past Grabara. The goal visibly lifted the experimental Cymru side as well as the travelling support, but Poland recovered on the hour mark as they began to retain the ball for longer periods, and they eventually levelled on 72 minutes as Jakub Kamiński curled the ball past Hennessey and inside the far post.
Poland would complete the turnaround on 85 minutes when substitute Karol Świderski capitalised on a blocked shot from Lewandowski to slot the ball past Hennessey from close-range. Cymru continued to push for an equaliser, but the home side were determined not to let their lead slip as the final whistle confirmed that they would start their campaign with maximum points.
Debutant Wes Burns – Rob Page spoke before the match about how impressed he and the staff had been with the versatile Ipswich Town player since he came into the camp. Making his senior debut, Burns made a strong and confident start as he looked to carry the ball forward and create space and opportunities, and he certainly proved himself to be another option for Page in this busy month of competitive games.
Nations League remit - Robert Lewandowski was exactly the sort of quality opponent that Rob Page wanted to expose his young players to in this competition, and they do not come much better than the Polish captain and all-time record appearance holder and goalscorer. Rhys Norrington-Davies showed his defensive qualities as he stood up to the challenge, while Lewandowski was kept relatively quiet as the Cymru defence frustrated Poland in the final third for long periods of the match.
The Red Wall on tour – The Cymru fans will be needed like never before on Sunday afternoon in Cardiff, but the fact that 2,000 made the journey to Wrocław to get behind Rob Page's experimental starting line-up said everything about the belief they have in this team. This performance will add to the anticipation and excitement for the weekend, despite the result, and with the whole nation right behind this special group of players anything is possible.
Rob Page made no secret in the build-up to this UEFA Nations League opener that his primary focus was very much on Sunday's FIFA World Cup Play-Off Final. However, the manager will take plenty of positives despite the defeat from the performance of a number of his players who took advantage of their opportunity to represent their country against quality opposition in a competitive match. Wes Burns shone on his senior debut and will clearly have a part to play in this competition with three more games in the next fortnight, while coming through the match without any immediate injury concerns will be another positive for Page ahead of the weekend.
Poland XI: Grabara (GK), Bednarek, Góralski (Kamiński 60), Buksa (Świderski 73), Lewandowski (c), Krychowiak (Grosicki 81), Klich (Żurkowski 60), Glik, Bereszyński, Puchacz (Zalewski 73), Zieliński. Subs: Skorupski (GK), Drągowski (GK), Wieteska, Kędziora, Pestka, Szymański, K. Piątek.
Manager: Czesław Michniewicz.
Goals: Kamiński (72), Świderski (85).
Yellow Cards: Bereszyński (61).
Red Cards: None.
Cymru XI: Ward (GK) (Hennessey (GK) (45), Gunter (c), Mepham, Smith, Burns (N. Williams 62), Moore (Harris (45), Morrell, Norrington-Davies, J. Williams (Thomas 77), James (Matondo 45), Levitt. Subs: A. Davies (GK), Denham, Rodon, Wilson, C. Roberts, Ampadu.
Manager: Rob Page.
Goals: J. Williams (52).
Yellow Cards: Morrell (29), Norrington-Davies (75).
Red Cards: None.
Referee: Rade Obrenovič (Slovenia) Assistant referees: Aleksandar Kasapovič and Grega Kordež (Slovenia) Fourth official: David Smajc (Slovenia) VAR: Nejc Kajtazovic (Slovenia) Assistant VAR: Alen Borošak (Slovenia).