With a coveted place in Qatar on the line, Poland and Sweden prepare for battle in the final of their World Cup 2022 playoff on Tuesday evening at the Stadion Slaski.
The hosts received a bye into the playoff final after their scheduled semi-final versus Russia was cancelled, while their Scandinavian counterparts saw off the Czech Republic after 120 minutes in midweek.
Amid the ongoing dreadful scenes of conflict in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion of their Eastern European neighbours, Poland stars such as Robert Lewandowski, Wojciech Szczesny and Matty Cash vehemently expressed their opposition to facing Valeri Karpin’s side in the playoffs.
In a stance of solidarity with Ukraine, FIFA announced that Russia would not be taking part in the playoffs as Poland advanced to the final – in turn allowing Czeslaw Michniewicz’s side to pit their wits against Scotland in a friendly battle.
Seeing two players come off injured before the half-time whistle was not what the doctor ordered for Poland, who fell behind to Kieran Tierney’s header in the 68th minute before Krzysztof Piatek’s penalty right at the death led to a share of the spoils in a 1-1 draw.
Now facing a swift return back to base after a rough night in Glasgow, Poland have one eye a second consecutive World Cup finals appearance after their group-stage exit in 2018, while they also fell at the same hurdle in an underwhelming Euro 2020 campaign last year.
A tally of just one defeat from their last eight matches in all tournaments does set the hosts up well for this pivotal showdown, and not since 2009 have they failed to score in a World Cup Qualifying match on home soil, with a well-rested Lewandowski sure to have a glint in his eyes against a jelly-legged Sweden.
With both Sweden and the Czech Republic squandering several chances over the course of 90 minutes at the Friends Arena, both World Cup hopefuls were forced into a period of extra time, and an inspired substitution from Janne Andersson paid dividends.
The Czechs were aggrieved in normal time as a seemingly good goal from Jan Kuchta was disallowed, and with 110 minutes on the clock, forwards Alexander Isak and Robin Quaison combined for the latter to slot home and sent Sweden one step closer to Qatar.
As is the case with Poland, Sweden are also looking to make it back-to-back World Cup finals appearances after falling at the quarter-finals to England in 2018, but Andersson must recover his troops from a gruelling 120 minutes of action in order to do so.
The visitors must not only overcome fatigue, but a worrisome losing run away from their Scandinavian headquarters as well, with Sweden losing each of their last three World Cup Qualifying away matches and winning just one of their last nine on rival turf in all tournaments.
Victories over Poland are Sweden’s forte, though, as the Blue and Yellow have strung together a six-game winning run in this fixture – most recently edging a five-goal thriller 3-2 in the group stage of Euro 2020 thanks to a dramatic late winner from Viktor Claesson.
Poland World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
Poland form (all competitions):
Sweden World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
We say: Poland 1-2 Sweden
Sweden appear to have Poland’s number given recent results, and the returns of two seasoned goalscorers in Lewandowski and Ibrahimovic certainly makes this encounter one to watch.
While Andersson’s side left it all out on the pitch on Thursday, Poland’s encounter with Scotland was not exactly relaxing, and given Sweden’s attacking options in reserve, we are backing the Blue and Yellow to spoil the Polish party and advance to the finals.