Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden Is Out, Robert Lewandowski's Poland Is In
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If Zlatan Ibrahimović's famous logic that "a World Cup without Zlatan is not worth watching" holds true, then we can all give the 2022 World Cup a miss.
Backed by a partisan crowd at Stadion Śląski in Chorzów, Robert Lewandowski's Poland clinched a spot at the big event and eliminated Ibrahimović's Sweden with a 2-0 victory that featured goals from the Bayern Munich star and Piotr Zieliński.
After leading Europe in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup with 16 goals but failing to score in Russia as Poland crashed out at the group stage, Lewandowski was again one of the continent's most prolific with nine goals this cycle. It's difficult to see the 33-year-old going scoreless in Qatar.
He converted the go-ahead goal from the spot early in the second half and Poland never looked back.
LEWA SCORES A HUGE PENALTY FOR POLAND pic.twitter.com/t0RNQiTsiK— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) March 29, 2022
Poland was the more rested side after Russia's disqualification put the Eagles straight into the playoff final, whereas Sweden had overcome the Czech Republic 1-0 after 120 minutes of action last Thursday. However, the Swedes produced the better openings in the first half as Alexander Isak, Robin Quaison and Emil Forsberg all forced Wojciech Szczęsny into saves while Isak and Quaison also put headers wide.
Having only just returned from an Achilles tendon problem with AC Milan that's limited him to three extremely brief substitute appearances in March, Ibrahimović wasn't expected to start on Tuesday after also missing the Czech Republic match through suspension.
Sweden's first half performance was a testament to Janne Andersson's selection, and so you understood why the 40-year-old wasn't brought on at halftime. However, Lewandowski's penalty conversion happened in the 49th minute and still Andersson refused to turn to Ibrahimović.
Zieliński made it 2-0 in the 72nd and by the time Ibrahimović was brought on in the 79th, it was far too late for him to turn the tide.
Zieliński punishes Sweden for their blunder!As it stands, Poland are through to the World Cup
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 29, 2022
If Sweden would've capitalized on a chance in the first half it would've been a different story, but now all the questions will center on Andersson's reluctance to bring on his country's star attraction.
Ibrahimović will almost certainly return to retirement now. He originally retired after Euro 2016 but made a spectacular return in 2021 for a potential place on Sweden's Euro 2022 squad. Injury, however, ruled him out of that tournament and he ultimately never scored a goal in his five appearances after coming back.