ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Robert Lewandowski’s standing as one of the greatest ever strikers at club level is surely undisputed after a record-breaking season with Bayern Munich.
With 66 goals in 119 games for Poland, his status in the international game is well-established, too.
Except, maybe, in one respect.
Lewandowski has yet to turn it on at a major tournament. In fact, with only two goals in 11 matches at either a World Cup or a European Championship, there’s an argument he has underperformed on the biggest stage for Poland.
Maybe that will all change at Euro 2020 — and he could hardly have picked a kinder opponent to start against.
Poland’s opening Group E game at the continent-wide tournament is on Monday against Slovakia, a nation seemingly on the slide after making its debut appearance at both a World Cup and the European Championship since 2010.
It’s exactly the type of team Lewandowski should be targeting to improve his underwhelming scoring numbers at major tournaments — at 32, he might only have one more in him — and he couldn’t be in better shape to do so if his form for Bayern is anything to go by.
He just broke the Bundesliga’s 49-year-old record for goals in a season, with 41 in 29 appearances for Bayern. In the Champions League, he is now third in the all-time list for goals — behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. He has passed the 550-goal mark at club level.
But, of course, Poland isn’t Bayern Munich. Lewandowski hasn’t got the supply line he has for his club, explaining why goals become scarce at major tournaments even if they continue to flow freely in qualifying and friendly matches.
And there will be an even greater reliance on Lewandowski at Euro 2020 with strikers Krzysztof Piatek and Arkadiusz Milik ruled out of the tournament because of injury.
As a result, Piotr Zielinski, a midfielder at Italian team Napoli, could line up alongside Lewandowski but drop deep more often in attempt to link up play.
Slovakia is another team with one standout, but Marek Hamsik isn’t the player of old. The playmaker — as renowned for his Mohawk as his ability on the ball — turns 34 in July and has disappeared from the scene over the past two seasons, having ended his 11-year spell at Napoli in 2019 to join Chinese club Dalian.
In March, he moved to Swedish team IFK Gothenburg to get more playing time ahead of Euro 2020 but the injuries have restricted his involvement.
Still classy on the ball, there are doubts about how much influence Hamsik can have against the more high-profile opponents and Slovakia is in quite a tough group, with Spain and Sweden as future opponents.
This will be Slovakia’s third appearance at a major tournament since becoming an independent country in 1993, and the class of 2021 will do well to follow its predecessors in advancing from the group stage.
That happened at the 2010 World Cup, which was notable for Slovakia’s 3-2 win over Italy, and at Euro 2016. Hamsik scored crucial goals in the group stage in both of those tournaments, which ended for Slovakia in last-16 exits, while playing in an advanced midfield role. He may sit deeper this time in an effort to orchestrate play.
Slovakia’s recent form isn’t great, however, only qualifying for Euro 2020 through the playoffs and then failing to beat both Cyprus and Malta early in World Cup qualifying.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80