MARSEILLE, France (AP) — Without much help from star striker Robert Lewandowski, Poland has made it into the knockout round of the European Championship for the first time.
Poland cemented its place in the last 16 with a 1-0 win in Marseille on Tuesday against already eliminated Group C opponent Ukraine.
Second-half substitute Jakub Blaszczykowski struck the winner for Poland in the 54th minute. Poland qualified second from the group behind Germany, both with seven points.
Lewandowski’s continued inability to find the net, however, will hog headlines.
The scorer of 13 goals in qualifying missed a sitter in the first half. Given both time and space in front of goal by a scything pass by Arkadiusz Milik through the Ukraine defense, the Bayern Munich striker aimed for the top left-hand corner, but side-footed the ball high and wide.
Lewandowski squandered other first-half chances, too, failing to connect with a fizzing cross from Milik and, moments later, getting tangled in his own feet in front of goal and firing weakly past Andriy Pyatov’s right-hand post.
Blaszczykowski quickly rewarded coach Adam Nawalka for bringing him on for the second half, ending the stalemate and taking the wind out of Ukraine’s sails with his goal from a cleverly worked short corner.
Found with a pass from Milik, Blaszczykowski turned one way and then the other to make space for himself and curled a left-footed shot into the net.
Polish fans, who comfortably outnumbered Ukrainian supporters in the 67,000-capacity Stade Velodrome, celebrated by lighting at least two flares, an action likely to bring a fine for Poland from UEFA.
Poland was content to sit back for much of the second half, leaving Lewandowski alone up front and with little opportunity to redeem himself.
Left winger Bartosz Kapustka will be missing for Poland in its next match, having picked up another yellow card in the second half.
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