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What happened to Robert Lewandowski?

The Bayern Munich star was poor as Poland exited the World Cup following a 3-0 loss to Cololmbia.

Robert Lewandowski pictured at the World Cup today.
Robert Lewandowski pictured at the World Cup today.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

ALREADY AT THE World Cup, a number of star players have had days to forget.

By their high standards, Lionel Messi and Mo Salah will have been disappointed with their contribution so far.

Brazil’s Neymar may have scored against Costa Rica, but you get the sense that he has yet to really take off and play to the best of his ability.

Another of the world’s most expensive players, Paul Pogba, like Neymar, has found the target, but France continue to look imbalanced in midfield, and it remains to be seen whether the Man United star can help them overcome these issues.

But arguably the most disappointing big player of all has been Robert Lewandowski.

At 29, the striker should be at the peak of his career. If ever he was going to take a major tournament by storm, Russia should have been it.

Instead, Lewandowski epitomised the shortcomings of a Poland team that many expected to emerge from their group and possibly go far in the competition. However, they will be getting an early flight home having today become the first European side to be knocked out of the competition after being beaten 3-0 by a plainly superior Colombian outfit.

The high hopes many had for Poland were not baseless. They came top of a qualification group that also featured Denmark, while they had impressed at Euro 2016, only losing on penalties at the quarter-final stage against eventual winners Portugal.

Yet there is a sense that Poland are an ageing team and past the peak of two years ago.

That said, more was still expected of Lewandowski, who remains widely considered as one of the world’s best strikers.

His form for Bayern has remained impressive and he has scored 49 goals in 56 appearances in all competitions this season.

Yet the star is far from happy at his club — last month, his agent confirmed he wanted to leave the Bundesliga side as he is seeking a “new challenge”.

Real Madrid have been one of the sides linked with the player in recent times, but after watching him at this World Cup, they may think twice before signing him.

Of course, like Messi and Salah among others, he is playing with an inferior set of players from that which is used to at club level.

Yet even allowing for that factor, Lewandowski still disappointed. He scored 16 goals in qualifying, but has managed just one in his last two tournaments.

He was ineffectual in the opening loss to Senegal and afterwards criticised the team’s tactics — perhaps a sign that he was not especially keen to acknowledge his own problems on the day.

His display drew criticism from ex-Poland international and father of keeper Wojciech Szczesny, Maciej, who told Polish TV.

“Lewandowski was probably not even on the field in the first half. The team moved with the monotonous pace of a regional train on the stretch from Pilawa to Tluszcz.”

For Sunday’s encounter with Colombia, Poland made several changes of personnel in addition to switching from their usual 4-4-2 to a 3-4-3 formation.

Yet it made minimal difference. The Poles struggled badly against a stylish and much-improved Colombian side, with Lewandowski on the periphery of the game once again.

At times, he failed to look like one of the most formidable strikers in Europe, as the Bayern star was bullied off the ball by Colombian markers and rarely threatened their goal, while missing one particularly good chance, as David Ospina came out quickly to smother his shot.

It is thus a deeply disappointing end to the season for a world-class player. Lewandowski will be 33 by the time the next World Cup comes around and there is no guarantee Poland will get there, so Russia might well have been his last chance in the competition.

Of course, Lewandowski is well capable of recovering from this setback — after all, even the best players have bad days and it would be unduly harsh to write him off on the basis of two games.

Yet a player of his calibre will surely know deep down that he should have performed better and it will take a while before he and his country get over the stinging disappointment of failure on the big stage.

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Paul Fennessy

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