Robert Lewandowski hasn't had the smoothest path to prominence but he is perfectly placed to fire Poland this summer, writes Andy Brassell
That forwards hog the limelight might be one of football's foremost clichés. Why is it, then, that some of the nations with the game's finest in that area are being overlooked in the run-up to the World Cup? As with last week's discussed team, Uruguay, Poland (who are priced at 65.00to win) merit consideration simply due to their attacking force - which, in their case, relies very heavily on one man, Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munichstriker is enjoying another sensational season, having already notched 29 goals in all competitions.
Lewy's career of two halves
Lewandowski's international career is the archetypal game of two halves. Poland co-hosted Euro 2012, and the then-Borussia Dortmund striker's goal in the tournament opener against Greece proved a false dawn. That was his sole goalscoring contribution for the tournament, and by the end of the calendar year tallied a modest 15 in 50 appearances. When you bear in mind that five of those were against the combined might of San Marino, Andorra and Singapore, it's even less impressive.
Since then his output has increased, as his status at club level has risen to gold-plated. Starting in 2013 - the year that Dortmund reached the Champions League final on the back of his four-goal blast against Real Madrid in the semi-final - Lewandowski has hit 36 in 41 games for his country, including a European record haul of 16 in the qualifying campaign for Russia.
His fight to reach the top
Quite simply this, as Lewandowski prepares to turn 30 in August, is the moment where his career reaches critical mass. It is quite possible to make the argument that he is the best number nine on the planet, but it hasn't been easy for him to get here. He arrived at Dortmund at a tricky moment in 2010, with Jürgen Klopp's side just about to shock Bayern Munich and take away their title. In his debut Bundesliga season, 18 of 33 appearances for Dortmund were off the bench as he struggled to displace Lucas Barrios, and Lewandowski found it incredibly frustrating.
From there, he channelled his aggression to make himself arguably the most complete centre-forward in football. Now in his eighth Bundesliga season, he has already hit 171 goalsin the competition and if he continues to play in Germany, will surely pass Peru's Claudio Pizarro as the most prolific foreign marksman in the competition.
His career watershed?
That is an 'if', though. Having recently changed agents - super agent Pini Zahavi is now in charge of his affairs - it is presumed that Lewandowski has his eye on a dream move to Real Madrid. Whether it is a move or just a new, lucrative contract that he wants, this period feels like a pivotal moment in his career.
That's the case at international level as well. He is Poland's captain, talisman and superstar, and will be desperate to weigh in during this summer in Russia. Despite his skyrocketing status, Lewandowski had a tough Euros in France two years ago. He only scored once - albeit against Portugal in the quarter-finals - and it took him until the last 16 to register a shot on target. Coach Adam Nawalka has to get the team to work for Lewandowski, rather than the other way around.
They have a better chance of getting it right this time, with Arkadiusz Milik's injury problems dictating more must run through Lewandowski. He is a 32.00shot to be top scorer, and has a window of opportunity in what should be an open Group H featuring Colombia, Senegal and Japan. With two vastly improved goalkeepers in Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski plus an authentic defensive leader in Kamil Glik, Lewandowski has a pretty solid platform from which to thrive.