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Exclusive: Red-hot Lewandowski Aims for EURO 2016 Qualification

Exclusive: Red-hot Lewandowski Aims for EURO 2016 Qualification

By Piotr Kwiatkowski

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s record-breaking goal machine Robert Lewandowski will be in the spotlight again on Thursday when his country aim to secure a place at Euro 2016 by beating Scotland in Glasgow.

The Bayern Munich striker has been in brilliant form with 16 goals in 11 games in all competitions for the Bundesliga club this season. He has scored 10 in Poland’s eight qualifiers.

The Poles, who co-hosted Euro 2012 with Ukraine, are second in Group D on 17 points, two points behind Germany and six ahead of Scotland in fourth. Ireland are third with 15 points.

Poland must beat the Scots and hope Ireland slip up at home to Germany to guarantee a place at next year’s finals in France. The Poles host the Irish in their last group game on Sunday.

Poland arrive in Glasgow with a fully-fit Lewandowski, who made headlines around the world by coming off the bench at halftime on his return from a muscle injury to score a record five goals in nine minutes against VfL Wolfsburg last month.

His haul included the fastest Bundesliga hat-trick, as he became the first Bundesliga substitute to score five, and was one short of the record set by Cologne’s Dieter Mueller in 1977.

“It’s inexplicable” he told Reuters in an interview when asked about his five goals. “In football you can’t sometimes explain things. It happened so fast that it was impossible to think about the result. This is the beauty of this sport.

“You can’t explain everything. Sometimes it’s a very unpredictable sport and also painful but that’s why people love it so much. It’s the instinct and there’s no time for thinking. The ball flies towards you, it’s your body and you’re doing it.

BIG SCREEN

“I heard there were a lot of posts on the internet, a few were even funny, but most of all I remember the big screen and all my names under the score 5-1,” he added.

“I will have many memories from that evening till the end of my life but the scoreboard with my name on will bring the strongest flashback.

“I don’t read articles about myself. I try to distance myself from it. Reading about yourself is nice but in the long run it doesn’t help. Concentration has to be in the right place”.

Poland’s captain is enjoying a great run with the national team, whose qualifying campaign includes a win over Germany in Warsaw a year ago although he described the draw with Scotland that followed at the National Stadium as a disappointment.

Lewandowski, nicknamed “The Body” due to his physique, is prepared for a tough contest in the return with the Scots.

“I see the media speaking a lot about this battle on the pitch but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was different and both the Scots and us focus on football” said the 27-year-old.

Scotland centre-back Grant Hanley told reporters he would make his presence felt to Lewandowski “a wee bit” at the start of the match but the Poland striker remained unfazed.

“He’ll get a fast yellow card if he introduces himself like that and then we will play directly towards him.

“For sure I won’t hold back while tackling. You have to resist when someone’s playing tough. It’s normal. You can switch yourself and play like the opposition” he said.

NATIONAL HERO

During his five years in Germany, the ex-Lech Poznan player has become a national hero at home with world class performances of the like that had not seen since the days of former Poland international Zbigniew Boniek at Juventus in the 1980s.

Lewandowski had already passed a few milestones like scoring a hat-trick for Borussia Dortmund against Bayern in the 2012 German Cup final and his famous dismantling of Real Madrid with four goals in the Champions League semi-final two years ago.

They lost to Bayern in the Champions League final and after one more season in Dortmund he left to join the Munich club.

The Pole said each career high was different and it was easier for him to cope with his achievements now, including the attention in the aftermath of the Wolfsburg scoring spree.

“I knew what I had to change to calm some things in me, which I didn’t know how to do after (scoring four against) Real Madrid. I thought that euphoria would just go away alone,” he explained.

“Now I know that it is me who sets new heights for myself and it is me who has to cope with it.

“The next day was quite normal but two days after Wolfsburg I started to think about another game. I knew that in the context of what I did, the next matches would also be very important for me”.

Asked if he would trade those goals for the one he missed against Germany that would have made it 2-2 before halftime in their 3-1 qualifying loss in Frankfurt last month, he said: “I wouldn’t change it, because I believe we will qualify anyway.”

(Editing by Ken Ferris)

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