A jubilant Poland booked their spot at Qatar 2022 thanks to a 2-0 win over Sweden in their World Cup play-off. Second-half goals from Robert Lewandowski and Piotr Zielinski were enough to earn the hosts a historic victory, their first over the Swedes since 1991.
Both sides had chances in what was a nervy and at times frantic opening period, but Poland’s Wojciech Szczesny made a superb save from Emil Forsberg’s low drive, while Robin Olsen kept out Jan Bednarek’s terrific volley at the other end.
The deadlock was finally broken after the break when substitute Grzegorz Krychowiak, who had only been on the field for a handful of minutes, was fouled in the box by Jesper Karlstrom. The referee immediately pointed to the spot, with Lewandowski sending the goalkeeper the wrong way with his calm penalty.
Sweden responded quickly to going behind, but for all their pressing, they could not find a way past Szczesny, who made another huge save from Forsberg when he rushed across his line to block down to his right.
And the visitors were made to pay for not making their chances count as they found themselves two goals down with 72-minutes on the clock. Zielinski capitalised on a mistake in the visiting defence, bursting forward one-on-one with Olsen before calmly lifting into the back of the net.
Why did Sweden leave it so late for Zlatan? With time ticking away, it was a huge surprise that Sweden waited until they were 2-0 down to bring Zlatan Ibrahimovic off the bench – especially as their finishing was so poor.
The visitors had plenty of chances in both halves, but failed to hit the target enough, and when they did, they found Szczesny in their way.
It was not until the 79th minute, seven minutes after Zielinski had doubled Poland’s lead, that manager Janne Andersson turned to Ibrahimovic, who is Sweden’s all-time leading goalscorer and would surely have carried an extra threat in the final third.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Wojciech Szczesny (Poland). It would be a stretch to say the Polish goal was peppered, but certainly Sweden had the better chances of the night – and they were thwarted at every turn.
The main reason for that was the former Arsenal ‘keeper, who made a string of fine saves to keep the scores level going into half-time, and then maintain his side’s advantage after the break.
The first stop from Forsberg in particular was superb, diving at full stretch down to his left to tip a powerful drive around the post, while he relieved the pressure on the Poland defence throughout the night by dealing with numerous crosses with impressive ease.
Robert Lewandowski has scored 51 goals in 44 games for club and country this season
Sweden have now missed three of the last four World Cups, only qualifying for Russia 2018 since the 2006 edition in Germany