Poland vs Northern Ireland: Lewandowski and Lafferty hope to make impact

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www.telegraph.co.uk

Poland and Northern Ireland will meet for the first time at an international tournament at the Stade de Nice for their opening Euro 2016 clash on Sunday evening.

For the Green and White army, this will their first ever Euro competition, and their first major international tournament since the 1986 World Cup. Thanks to the recently expanded 24-team format, a slew of debutants will be featuring in France, which also includes Slovakia, Wales, Albania, and Iceland. As for Poland, they are making their third consecutive Euro appearance and the Białe Orły (White Eagles) are looking to get out of the group stage for the first time.

Both Northern Ireland and Poland will be heavily relying on two men in particular to shoulder the goal-scoring responsibilities. For Michael O’Neill’s side, the go-to man will be none other than Kyle Lafferty. At 28, the Norwich City striker is his nation’s second-highest goalscorer of all time. During qualifiers, Northern Ireland netted sixteen goals, and like any talismanic forward, Lafferty scored seven of them.

Although he was reported to be suffering from a groin problem, his nation’s fans will be relieved to know that he has apparently shaken it off and will be installed in the starting XI. Fortunately for O’Neill, he has no other major injury concerns to trouble him ahead of Sunday’s showdown with Poland.

Like Northern Ireland, Poland also will be looking to a key striker to lead them – Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski. Adam Nawałka’s troops scored a whopping 33 goals in qualifying – more than any other side – and Lewandowski’s 13 makes him the joint-highest goalscorer in Euro qualifying history. Coming off a record-setting season with die Roten, Poland will be hoping that that same prolific form will translate into success at France, especially considering Northern Ireland’s impressive form leading up to this tournament.

Another player to impress was Arkadiusz Milik, who provided a joint-high six assists over the course of Poland’s qualifying campaign. The 22-year-old Ajax man is already being billed as the “next Lewandowski” and will be eager to make a name for himself at Euro 2016.

The debutants arrive in France having avoided defeat in their past 12 games – which is a better run than any of the other 23 sides in this competition. However, their 271 minutes without conceding a goal will come under major threat if Lewandowski is in top form. Just ask Wolfsburg or Real Madrid fans, who saw their sides dismantled single-handedly by the Polish star over the past few seasons.

Nawałka, unlike his tactical counterpart does have some injury concerns ahead of this match, with both Maciej Rybus and Pawel Wszolek missing out entirely, and Kamil Grosicki’s participation is in doubt after picking up an ankle injury in their 0-0 draw with Lithuania.

Poland will be hoping to finally win their first game at a Euro tournament; to date they have lost three and drawn three, whilst Northern Ireland are hoping to pick up their first three points in their debut Euro campaign. Will either side achieve their objective on Sunday evening? Or will they cancel each other out like they did back during a 2010 World Cup qualifier (in September 2009)?

Michelle Bonsu

Freelance football journalist based in New York. Primarily support AC Milan as well as the Ghanaian and Italian NT’s, but you’ll find me watching the Bundesliga and Premier League as well–enjoy a good game, regardless of where it’s being played. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of my favourite players.