VOLGOGRAD, Russia (Reuters) - Poland will take no comfort from their consolation win over Japan in their last match at the 2018 World Cup and will need fresh players and possibly a new coach in order to move on from their shambolic campaign in Russia.
The Poles lost their two opening matches and were the first European side to be knocked out of the competition — a shock for a team which cruised through their World Cup qualifying campaign.
Having reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, Poland were widely tipped to get into the knockout phase of a World Cup for the first time in more than 30 years.
In their opening match, however, an own goal by defender Thiago Cionek was followed by a complete communications breakdown among Polish players that handed Senegal’s M’Baye Niang one of the easiest goals he is ever likely to score.
A few days later, Poland were out after a 3-0 thumping by Colombia.
Their 1-0 win on Thursday — against a Japan side that sat back even when losing in order to qualify for the next round by dint of their disciplinary record — was too little, too late.
At his final news conference in Russia on Thursday, coach Adam Nawalka spoke of his bitter disappointment and came under fire from Polish reporters who questioned his tactics and choice of players.
“I think you are a great expert by expressing these opinions after the match, but I make decisions before the match,” Nawalka, a former Poland midfielder, replied testily.
“You seem to be playing national coaches in your opinions here.”
When asked about his future as coach, the 60-year-old, who has been in the job since 2013, declined to comment. His contract was due to run until the end of the World Cup.
Whether the task of rebuilding falls to Nawalka or someone else, the challenge looks daunting.
In Robert Lewandowski, Poland have a world-class striker despite his failure to score in Russia. But he will turn 30 in August, raising questions about how long he can lead the attack.
As Lewandowski himself suggested after the drubbing by Colombia, Poland lack quality in many other areas of a team which was among the oldest competing in Russia.
Hopes that 24-year-old striker Arkadiusz Milik could inject some pace have been hit by injuries to the Napoli player. He started against Senegal but managed just one shot before he was substituted and failed to appear again in Russia.
Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Peter Rutherford