DOHA, Qatar -- Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz delved into the worlds of skiing and tennis when assessing the task facing his players in stopping Argentina great Lionel Messi at the World Cup.
A draw for Poland in Wednesday’s game at Stadium 974 will secure a place in the last 16, but the team's chances of advancing hinge largely on how it deals with Messi.
Michniewicz used other sports as a reference.
“Messi behaves on the pitch like Alberto Tomba on the slopes,” Michniewicz said of the Italian skier from the 1980s and ’90s who won Olympic gold medals in slalom and giant slalom.
“He is able to avoid everyone, like Alberto Tomba was able to get around everything. So we need to put players around Messi. If he is able to ride through everyone, we won’t be able to stop him.”
For many, the game is being billed as a head-to-head between Messi and Robert Lewandowski, the Poland captain who is one of the best strikers in the world and now plays for Barcelona, Messi’s former club.
Michniewicz said that might be too simple.
“It’s not Messi vs. Lewandowski — it’s not tennis, it’s not one-on-one. They're not serving to each other,” Michniewicz said. “Robert needs his teammates, like Leo does. They rely on their teammates. They can’t do this alone, although these individual players can do a lot themselves.”
Messi has scored in both of his games at the tournament in Qatar, including the go-ahead goal in the 2-0 win over Mexico that ignited Argentina’s World Cup hopes.
“It’s a great question — how do you stop Lionel Messi?” Michniewicz said. “All the world has been thinking about that for years … I don’t think we’ll ever find the final answer.”
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