Ultimately it was bitter disappointment for the Republic of Ireland as they came up one goal short of automatic qualification for the Euros on a bitterly cold night in Warsaw. The Boys in Green battled hard in the Stadion Nardowy on the banks of the Vistula River but couldn’t find a final breakthrough late in the game to earn a berth through this route to France 2016. The possibility of qualification is still there for them though as they face a play-off next month.
The first half had a crazy couple minutes with Poland scoring, Ireland winning a penalty a minute later which Jon Walters converted, before the home team had a goal disallowed for offside moments later.
Ireland had started the game strongly and didn’t display any nerves, taking the game to Poland before those opening goals electrified the stadium.
Martin O’Neill had decided to omit Wes Hoolahan from his starting line up, feeling the Norwich City player would not be able to play two games in three days.
The suspended players from the Germany game came back into the team with Glenn Whelan holding in front of the back four, along with Jeff Hendrick, while James McClean came in on the left side of midfield. Robbie Brady slotted into left back in place of Stephen Ward.
Brady got a number of deep free kicks during the first half that he was able to pump into the box. The first, three minutes into the game, saw Shane Long win a header Jon Walters couldn’t quite get on the end of it and that was probably the best they got with those set pieces.
The Polish defence was able to marshal the situation well from those frees as Lukasz Fabianski claimed all the crosses, supported by his centre-half’s Kamil Glik and Micahl Pazdan. His positioning meant it seemed the ball was always attracted to his hands.
Adam Nawalka had to rejig his Polish team due to a trio of injuries including the loss of influential winger Arkadiusz Milik. Nawalka deployed Karol Linetty and Grzegorz Krychowiak as holding midfielders. Pawel Olkowski and the excellent Kamil Grosicki provided the ammunition for in-form Polish captain Robert Lewandowski.
On 13 minutes the home team won a corner after Darren Randolph had smothered Kamil Grosicki's shot. Grosicki took the resulting dead ball playing it to Grzegorz Krychowiak on the edge of area. He controlled the ball beautifully and let fly to score into the bottom left hand corner.
Heads may have dropped on some teams but not Ireland who promptly went upfield and won a penalty. The spot kick came from a high challenge on the edge of the area on Shane Long by Pazdan. Walters took the responsibility and calmly slotted the ball into the bottom right hand corner.
The drama continued as moments later Poland had the ball in the back of the net but the goal was ruled out for offside. At this stage Ireland were half-way there to the high scoring draw that they needed for qualification but it was Poland who pushed on in the rest of the half.
When the home team moved forward, they do so with speed and were backed by a wall of noise from the home support. The pocket of Ireland fans high in the stadium struggled to be heard over the din. First Krzysztof Maczynski got a shot away on the left, then Grosicki created two chances for himself but Ireland stood firm.
Robbie Brady was having more joy getting forward from full back than Seamus Coleman but just after the half hour mark Coleman did earn Ireland a corner. Yet again the set piece delivery though went straight into the hands of Fabianski.
Ireland couldn’t quite make it to the break level as Poland went 2-1 up with their captain scoring his 13th goal in 10 international games. Lewandowski’s powerful diving header off a dinked Krzysztof Maczynski cross gave them the half time lead.
Martin O’Neill needed to rejig his team as the goalscoring hero from the Germany game Shane Long suffered an early second half injury. Robbie Keane came on in his place and was soon followed by Aiden McGeady who replaced Glenn Whelan who was on a yellow card as O’Neill looked to force the play.
Ireland lived on the edge and needed Randolph to be quick off his line to save a Grosicki shot with his knees. When Lewandowski had the goal at his mercy, it looked like he would get his team’s third but Coleman came back with a clattering but excellently timed tackle that took the ball, the Polish captain and his own ‘keeper out of it.
Krychowiak got a free header from the resulting corner swung in from substitute Jakub Blaszczykowksi and it was a let off for Ireland as the game moved into the last 15 minutes. Martin O’Neill made the last throw of the dice bringing on Hoolahan to get the goal that would give them the high scoring draw the Boys in Green needed.
With nine minutes remaining some trickery by McGeady gave Ireland a golden chance to get the goal they sought but Richard Keogh’s downward header was pushed away by Fabianski.
Ireland pushed on and in injury time when the home team broke O’Shea, who had already been booked, pulled back Lewandowski. O'Shea received another yellow as the Boys in Green ended the game with 10 men. He will miss Ireland's next game which will be next month's first leg of the play-off for Euro qualification, as well Walters as he picked up a yellow card in injury time.
The potential play-off opponents will amerge over the next few days with the draw taking place in Nyon next weekend. Ireland can take some positives into the draw and the resulting tie after the win over Germany and the performance in Warsaw but there will still be the thought of just how close the team got to automatic qualification.
Poland: Lukasz Fabianski; Lukasz Piszczek, Kamil Glik, Micahl Pazdan, Jakub Wawrzyniak; Karol Linetty, Grzegorz Krychowiak; Pawel Olkowski (Jakub Blaszczykowsk3i, Krzysztof Maczynski (Lukasz Szukala 78), Kamil Grosicki (Slowomir Peszko 85); Robert Lewandowski ©.
Subs not used: Wojciech Szczesny, Artur Boruc, Artur Jedrzejczyk, Thiago Cionek, Sebastian Mila, Piotr Zielinski, Bartosz Kapustka, Artur Sobiech, Ariel Borysiuk
Booked: Kamil Glik (74).
Ireland: Darren Randolph; Seamus Coleman, Richard Keogh, John O'Shea, Robbie Brady; Jon Walters, Glenn Whelan (Aidan McGeady 57), James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick, James McClean; Shane Long (Robbie Keane 55).
Subs not used: David Forde, Rob Elliot, Marc Wilson, Cyrus Christie, Paul McShane, David Meyler, David McGoldrick, Darron Gibson, Daryl Murphy.
Bookings: John O’Shea (19 & 90), Glenn Whelan (45), Jon Walters (90+5).
Sent off: John O’Shea (90)
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey).
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Kamil Grosicki (Poland)
Macdara Ferris is a contributor since 2007 to Hoops Scene (Shamrock Rovers' match day programme) and the co-author of Tallaght Time: Shamrock Rovers 2009 to 2012. He still believes that one day he will see Rovers win the FAI Cup. The first international game he attended was Luxembourg being dispatched 2-1 at Lansdowne Road by Jack Charlton's Ireland team. <br /><br /> He has been a writer with extratime.ie since 2012 covering the League of Ireland, the Irish National team and a few Champions League finals. He has also been known to pop up in far flung places like Ballybofey, Belfast, Berlin and Brazil to report for extratime.