WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland sealed their first World Cup spot since the 2006 tournament after an early onslaught and a late flourish, including a goal from the excellent Robert Lewandowski, gave them a 4-2 home win over Montenegro on Sunday.
The result left Poland top of Group E with 25 points from 10 games, five ahead of second-placed Denmark who sealed a playoff berth after a 1-1 home draw with Romania.
The Poles thrived on the selfless work of their record scorer Lewandowski, who netted one goal and had a hand in two more on Sunday after grabbing a hat-trick in Thursday’s 6-1 away rout of Armenia.
Roared on by a packed national stadium in Warsaw awash with Poland’s red-and-white colours, the home side brushed Montenegro aside in a fast and furious opening 16 minutes.
Midfielder Krzysztof Maczynski fired them ahead in the sixth minute with a crisp finish from 10 metres as a miscued Piotr Zielinski shot fell kindly for him, after Lewandowski started a sweeping move from midfield.
The Bayern Munich striker then set up Kamil Grosicki with a clever touch in the 16th minute and the winger fired home from 12 metres after good work by Zielinski, who shook off two Montenegrin defenders to thread the ball to Lewandowski.
Montenegro missed their best chance in the first half when Vladimir Jovovic fired over the bar from 10 metres after a defensive error.
Poland were content to keep possession in the second half but got a rude awakening as the visitors scored twice in five minutes to set up a nervy finish, with the Poles at that point needing at least a draw to go through.
Substitute Stefan Mugosa pulled one back with his first touch of the ball, a spectacular overhead kick in the 78th minute, before Zarko Tomasevic equalised when he took advantage of more sloppy defending.
The silenced home crowd erupted again as Lewandowski restored Poland’s lead with an opportunist finish in the 85th minute and the home side romped to victory after Montenegro’s Filip Stojkovic turned a Grosicki cross into his own net.
The frantic late spell also produced a pair of gilt-edged chances in stoppage time as Poland hit the woodwork and then saw visiting keeper Danijel Petkovic deny Maciej Makuszewski.
Europe’s nine group winners qualify automatically for next year’s 32-team tournament in Russia while the eight best runners-up enter a two-leg playoff for the remaining four berths.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editing by Ken Ferris