Sweden's Alexander Isak (center) passed the ball as Poland's Jan Bednarek tries to stop him during the World Cup 2022 playoff soccer match between Poland and Sweden at Silesian Stadium, in Chorzow, southern Poland, March 29, 2022. (CZAREK SOKOLOWSKI / AP)
CHORZOW, Poland - Poland's Robert Lewandowski and Piotr Zielinski fired second-half goals to book a place at the World Cup finals in Qatar with a 2-0 win over Sweden in an electrifying playoff tie on Tuesday.
The Poles battled to contain a Sweden side bristling with youthful attacking vigor, but in the end experience told as Lewandowski and his team mates capitalized on mistakes.
After a shaky opening, the Swedes quickly grew into the game and winger Emil Forsberg should have given them the lead but Wojciech Szczesny pulled off the first of a string of fine saves to turn the ball behind for a corner in the 19th minute
After a shaky opening, the Swedes quickly grew into the game and winger Emil Forsberg should have given them the lead but Wojciech Szczesny pulled off the first of a string of fine saves to turn the ball behind for a corner in the 19th minute.
The home side also struggled as Sweden winger Dejan Kulusevski twice went close before the playoff final turned on a clumsy mistake by Jesper Karlstroem.
The Swedish midfielder mistimed a challenge in the box early in the second half and ended up bundling Poland substitute Grzegorz Krychowiak to the ground, with Italian referee Daniele Orsato immediately pointing to the spot.
Up stepped Poland captain Lewandowski to send Robin Olsen the wrong way as he confidently struck his low spot kick into the net for his 75th international goal.
The Swedes threw caution to the wind and poured forward, with Szczesny getting down smartly to deny Forsberg again and Victor Lindelof sending the resulting corner just wide with a glancing header.
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Polish players celebrate after the World Cup 2022 playoff soccer match between Poland and Sweden at Silesian Stadium, in Chorzow, southern Poland, March 29, 2022. (CZAREK SOKOLOWSKI / AP)
Just as the visitors looked to be on the verge of scoring, a mix-up between Kristoffer Olsson and Marcus Danielson allowed Zielinski to score as he curled the ball into the net at the near post in the 73rd minute.
The Swedes brought their record scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic off the bench for the final 10 minutes but Szczesny and the Polish defense held firm in front of a capacity crowd to secure their country's spot at the World Cup.
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Defender Kamil Glik was delighted to come out on top in the winner-take-all playoff clash.
"It was new for all of us - for me, for Robert (Lewandowski), who had played many matches but he hadn't played one like this, none of us had. It was a very tough match from this point of view," Glik, who played with a muscle injury, told Polish TV.
"I wasn't interested in what would happen tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, next week, next year. All that mattered was the here and now. We won and I'm very happy," he added.
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