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Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski returns but cannot save Poland from defeat against Austria in Euro 2024

Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski made his return from injury but could not help Poland get their first points in the Euro 2024 group stage as the Poles fell 3-1 to Austria in their second Group D clash in Berlin. Lewandowski and his troops fought hard but were second-best in the key moments and are not mathematically eliminated just yet, but their fate is nearly sealed with zero points from two games ahead of the group finale against favorites France.

Lewandowski watched the entire first half from the bench as Austria followed up on their impressive display against France with a brilliant start in Berlin, pressing high up the pitch and scoring after just 10 minutes with a header from Gernot Trauner. Austria were by far the better side and could have easily added another goal or two, and looked like huge favorites to get all three points in the first 25 minutes.

But Poland withstood the early storm and slowly grew into the game with their direct style leading to plenty of long balls and crosses into the box, and they kept going until the ball fell to Krzysztof Piatek in the area and the striker passed the ball into the net to equalize for the Polish.

The halftime whistle came to end a very entertaining first period, with the promise of more fun and Lewandowski’s tournament debut in the second half.

Poland’s talisman did come on in the 60th minute replacing goalscorer Piatek, and Lewandowski showed no signs of the thigh injury that cost him the first 120 minutes of play in the tournament and was involved early and often in the action, including in several duels with Austrian center-backs which earned him a yellow card for an elbow on Philipp Lienhart in one occasion.

But Lewandowski could do nothing about the brilliant passage of play that saw his team go behind for a second time: a great pass from Alexander Prass and a gorgeous dummy by Marko Arnautovic released Christoph Baumgartner, who passed the ball into the corner from the edge of the box and put Austria in front again.

Poland were running out of time fast to keep their knockout stage hopes alive, but the death blow came with 15 minutes to go when Marcel Sabitzer went through one-on-one with Wojciech Szczesny and was fouled by the goalkeeper inside the box. Arnautovic scored the penalty with ease, and Austria sealed the victory.

Desperation took over as Poland send bodies forward looking for a way back in the game, but they left tons of space in behind and could have easily conceded again in the dying seconds. No more goals were scored, but Poland’s fate was sealed with the final whistle.

Only a France defeat against the Dutch can give Poland any realistic hopes of possibly qualifying in third place with an unlikely win against Les Bleus the final group game, but the simple truth is Poland’s journey in Euro 2024 will most likely end next Tuesday. Lewandowski probably wasn’t fit enough to play but tried it anyway, which shows his character but also the shortcomings of the team around him.

This was always going to be a brutal group for the Poles, and it looks like they won’t get out of it.

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