On Thursday evening at Stade de France, reigning World Cup winners Germany and Poland squared off in a Group C showdown, with Joachim Löw and Adam Nawalka’s squads playing to a scoreless stalemate. While the outcome marked the first goal-less match thus far at Euro 2016, there were several key Poles who turned in warrior-like performances, including 30-year old Jakub Błaszczykowski.
Four years ago, Jakub Błaszczykowski captained the Polish national team that co-hosted Euro 2012 with Ukraine. If you recall, the Poles failed miserably to impress in front of their home crowd, finishing last in Group A behind Czech Republic, Greece and Russia. It was a difficult showing for then manager Franciszek Smuda who resigned immediately after their exit. Fast forward four years. Manager Adam Nawalka has coached a Polish national team that impressed throughout UEFA Euro qualifying, with Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik leading the attack. But of course, let us not forget “Kuba,” who is one of the longest tenured players for his country currently in France.
Last summer, Kuba ended an eight-year stint with German outfit Borussia Dortmund when he went out on loan to Fiorentina for the the 2015-16 campaign. Supporters of the viola were thrilled to get a player with such ability and experience at a big club like Dortmund, yet the success did not exactly translate over to the Italian game. The former Wisła Kraków winger made just 15 league appearances for Paulo Sousa’s Fiorentina side, scoring just twice (transfermarkt). Yet Kuba, like many others including Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma and Italy), always seem to bring a little something extra to the pitch once they put on the shirt of their national side.
In Poland’s Group C match against Northern Ireland, Kuba was dynamite; a passing accuracy of 95%, four dribbles, the assist on Milik’s goal, all capped by a 7.7 match rating via Who Scored. However, against Germany, Kuba turned in a performance demonstrative of how hard-working he is on the defensive end.
Let’s take a look at how Kuba performed in the 0-0 draw with Germany at Stade de France using the statistics and graphical data supplied by Opta and Four Four Two Stats Zone:
Against an intimidating central defense of Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, Poland had their work cut out for them in the final phase, not to mention the challenge of besting “sweeper keeper” Manuel Neuer. To ensure Lewandowski and Milik were fed an ample amount of quality balls, the field of play needed to be expanded out on the wings with Grosicki and Kuba.
At times, we saw the majority of the buildups begin out wide before any ball was played into Milik. Offensively, Nawalka got his tactics on point even with the little possession they maintained in this one. Defensively, Poland were better, and Kuba heavily contributed to the defensive showcase put on last night as you can see above.
Finding space in the final third was a rarity at times for Poland. The German midfield always closed down and really never gave an inch on the field. The link up play between Kuba and Lukasz Piszczek ensured that the left flank was well covered and that no space was threatened on the defensive end. As you can see from the graphic above, Kuba was vital for Poland in their own final third.
On numerous occasions, it was almost as if he was reborn as a wingback, cutting down the German opposition with seven successful tackles on Julian Draxler and Jonas Hector. The former Dortmund duo ensured the left flank was locked down all night. With Germany having held a staggering 69% of possession, you’d assume that Poland were outclassed in this one, however that was not the case. In fact, former Germany captain Michael Ballack, who is providing post-match commentary on ESPN, said that Poland were the better side overall.
What made this performance so special from a Polish perspective was that as a unit, they were well organized in both banks. When Germany made their dash forward into the final third or on the break, the bank of five stayed compact and defensively, Poland were going to be difficult to score on.
In terms of influence, Kuba was among the best. We did not get the chance to see Piszczek make many of his overlapping runs playing off Kuba, but this was more-so a defensive display that impressed. In fact, it made many take note of the quality Poland has developed since their early Euro 2012 bouncing. With many young players in the fold for Nawalka and Poland, Kuba still remains the veteran engine who is willing to work as hard defensively as he does offensively; and we were witness to that last night in France.
Jakub Błaszczykowski v #GER
Ball recoveries: 5
— Matthew Santangelo (@Matt_Santangelo) June 16, 2016
As it stands Poland sit second in Group C behind Germany, separated only on goal differential. Next Tuesday (June 21st @ 12pm EST), the Poles will look to book their rightful spot in the Round of 16 when they take on Ukraine who were officially eliminated from the tournament after the draw.