Euro 2016 last-16 berth in sight for Poland

Marseille (AFP) – Robert Lewandowski’s Poland take on Ukraine on Tuesday in the final Euro 2016 Group C match for both sides with a draw enough to take the Poles through to the knockout stages.

Even a defeat in Marseille would still suit Poland if Northern Ireland lose to Germany, who Poland held to a scoreless draw in Paris on Thursday. But coach Adam Nawalka has said his side will go all-out for victory.

“In every match we play to win, there is no speculation before this match where we want to finish in the group, we want the three points that’s all that matters,” he told media at the Stade Velodrome. 

With Lewandowski taking the lead, the Poles scored 33 goals in qualifying, more than any other team, but have found the net just once in two games at Euro 2016. 

Lechia Gdansk midfielder Slawomir Peszko said the meagre total is not a concern for Poland. 

“By scoring one goal we got four points, this is the right way to progress,” he said. 

“If we secure the back we will create clear-cut chances, we showed against Germany that we can create three or four chances per match. I am sure the goals will come, being safe at the back is the most important at the moment”.

With Bayern Munich superstar Lewandowski yet to open his account, his strike partner Arkadiusz Milik stepped up against the Northern Irish to score their only tournament goal to date.

– Working hard –

Despite Lewandowski’s second blank in a row against the Germans, Nawalka has praised his star man’s work ethic which he says is opening up more opportunities for Milik.

“Robert Lewandowski in every single match is incredibly important for our gameplan,” Nawalka said after the Germany game.

Lewandowski was double-marked against Northern Ireland but had more freedom against the Germans, and got on the end of several moves although none counted.

“It doesn’t matter who is passing, assisting, scoring goals…it’s a team sport, not an individual sport,” said Wisla Krakow midfielder Krzysztof Maczynski.

The win against Northern Ireland was Poland’s first ever European Championship victory, and by making it to the last-16 they would qualify for a knock-out round for the first time in three appearances at the tournament.

With no serious injury issues, Nawalka’s only headache is whether to start Bartosz Kapustka who earned plaudits when he came on as a substitute against the Irish.

With two defeats against Germany and Northern Ireland, disappointing Ukraine became the first team to be eliminated, and have only pride to play for in the Stade Velodrome.

Even if Mykhaylo Fomolenko’s team beats Poland they cannot overtake the third-placed Irish, as Michael O’Neill’s side would remain above Ukraine on head-to-head advantage.

Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Taras Stepanenko said after the Irish defeat that Ukraine had failed their “do-or-die” test.

“We need to defend the honour of our team, the country and ourselves,” he told later.

“And we are playing against our neighbours, Poland – it’s a derby and of course we’d like to go home with some positive emotions. We’d like to play good football and get a result”.

Both countries co-hosted the last European Championships in 2012 but both exited at the group stage.

The Marseille clash will be the the first meeting in a major tournament between the sides. Ukraine are unbeaten in the last five meetings against their opponents on Tuesday.

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