ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - If ever Poland needed a decisive contribution from a player who has proven a talismanic presence for them, it was on Wednesday in St Petersburg in their final Euro 2020 group match against Sweden.
But there was only so much impact Robert Lewandowski could have on a must-win game for his side, even if he did score twice.
Following a record-breaking scoring season in the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, Lewandowski took his tournament tally to three goals as Poland made a gallant bid to stay alive, but in the end lost 3-2 to the Swedes to finish bottom of Group E.
Reliance on the qualities of Lewandowski was all too evident from the start with the 32-year-old captain the go-to man for most of Poland’s forward forays. The rest of the team continually sought him out, hoping for something magical.
And, he came close to providing it. Two goals down, Lewandowski almost single-handedly turned the game on its head, offering up the chance of a come-from-behind win and progress to the last 16.
First came a trademark goal out of nothing as a quick counter-attack still left Lewandowski with much to do on the left.
But no problem. He set his radar sights on the top corner of the goal and bent a spectacular effort into the net to halve the deficit with a half-hour remaining.
Then followed a smart tap-in from close range, pouncing on a defensive error, looking like he had all the time in the world when in fact it was just a split second to steady himself and score.
It was a 12th goal for Lewandowski in his last 13 starts and with six minutes left Poland were level, needing one more goal to advance to the last 16.
In their desperation to push forward, however, and with evident fatigue, they slipped up at the back and substitute Viktor Claesson won the game for Sweden.
Lewandowski had tried his level best as always but it wasn't quite enough on the night.
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ed Osmond)