Robert Lewandowski is “an example” to young players everywhere, according to his coach Adam Nawalka, but there is more to this Poland side than the Bayern Munich star’s goals.
Speaking to reporters on the eve of Poland’s Group H opener against Senegal, Nawalka tried to deflect attention from his captain and talisman by talking up his squad’s collective quality.
But when you have a player who has scored 332 goals in 527 in club football and 55 in 95 for his country, it is inevitable where the spotlight will go.
“The scale and size of Robert’s talent is immense and it is supported by a lot of hard work,” said Nawalka, who has taken his side to eighth in FIFA’s world rankings since taking over in 2012.
“He is an excellent captain and one of the best players in the world but our team presents itself very well, too.
“I think he is an example to other players on how to run career. An athlete’s time is not very long and I hope all those other very good players out there can develop in the same way as Robert.”
Tuesday’s game represents a long-awaited return to this stage for both sides, as Poland have missed the last two World Cups and Senegal are making only their second appearance after a memorable run to the quarter-finals in 2002.
Nawalka said his side’s preparations have gone well, with the only problem being the shoulder injury picked up by Kamil Glik, their best defender, in training.
There have been reports that the Monaco centre-back will miss at least one game here but Nawalka was optimistic his “tough guy” would be fit to face Senegal and if he is not, “we have other solutions”.
Three men hoping to be a part of the answer were sat alongside Nawalka in the pre-match press conference: Dortmund’s Jakub Blaszczykowski, Hull City winger Kamil Grosicki and West Brom midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak.
For Blaszczykowski it would be a 100th cap but he said “personal achievements” were less important than the team and he trusted Nawalka completely, while the coach defended Krychowiak when it was suggested he had had a poor season in England.
Grosicki, meanwhile, revealed he watched Nigeria’s defeat by Croatia on Saturday to prepare himself for Senegal’s test but thought Senegal were a superior team to their West African rivals.
If Nawalka was reluctant to put too much pressure on his star man, Senegal coach Aliou Cisse seemed more relaxed about admitting he is lucky to have a special talent to call on.
Cisse captained Senegal’s 2002 team but said his country has never had a player like Sadio Mane before.
“He is a unique player and he cannot be compared to any other Senegal player, even the major ones we’ve had in the past,” said Cisse, who spent four seasons in the Premier League with Birmingham and Portsmouth.
“And despite everything that has happened for him over the last two years, he hasn’t changed – he’s just as humble as he was when I first met him at the 2012 Olympics.
“Senegal isn’t only Sadio Mane, though, he has a good team built around him and I think it should be a little plus for him that we’re all behind him.”
When asked by reporters if the 26-year-old Liverpool winger had a chance to become one of the world’s best players during this tournament, Cisse said: “He’s already one of the best – you can’t say he’s not.
“He plays for one of the most iconic clubs, one of the best in Europe, and he’s top notch for them.
“He’s absolutely unique because he is so unpredictable, that’s what makes him great – he can make the difference with a pass or shot. He’s already one of the best.”
On Lewandowski, Cisse said he had no “particular plan to stop him, just a collective plan to beat Poland”.
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