Milan Škriniar Shuts Down Lewandowski And Scores Match Winner For Slovakia

Milan Škriniar is not yet a household name in America, outside of the few households who value Serie A or Slovakian football. After Monday’s performance against Poland, expect the rest of the world to take notice that he is one of the best center backs in the Europe right now.

Škriniar helped Slovakia’s defense shut down Robert Lewandowski and scored the match winner with a superb volley to help his side secure a 2-1 win in the Group E opener on Monday. Inter Milan executives probably watched the match excitedly, thinking about how much cash they could bring in by offloading the 26-year-old who is just entering his prime.

Škriniar scored three goals in Inter’s title-winning campaign, appearing in 32 of 38 matches, and has now scored three for his country in 2021. His strike on Monday may have been the biggest of his career, giving Slovakia, ranked No. 36 in the world, a good chance of reaching the knockout stages for the second straight Euros. (Sweden and Spain, the other two teams in the group, play later Monday.)

It was an impressive result for Slovakia, which has struggled recently, having tied Cyprus and Malta in World Cup qualifying. Slovakia qualified for the Euros via the Nations League playoffs, winning Path B by edging Republic of Ireland then Northern Ireland, the first on penalties and the second in extra time. In contrast, Poland won qualifying Group G with eight wins from 10, easily topping the table ahead of Austria. 

Slovakia played superbly in the first half, neutralizing Lewandowski defensively while looking dangerous on the counter. On one such counter, Róbert Mak did it all himself, dancing around on the left wing before cutting inside and shooting off the post. The ball bounced back off keeper Wojciech Szczęsny for an own goal. Szczęsny became the second Juventus player to score an own goal at Euro 2020, joining Turkey’s Merih Demiral against Italy

Lewandowski wasn’t involved too much first half, his biggest contribution a defensive header. At times Poland seemed so focused on getting Lewa the ball — and Slovakia so focused on defending him — that the Polish offense struggled to maintain consistent attacks. But who can blame them when the Bayern Munich star scored a record 41 goals in the Bundesliga this season? 

Poland’s first attack of the second half used Lewandowski as a diversion, and it worked wonderfully as Karol Linetty scuffed his shot into the back of the net. It won’t be remembered as the goal of the tournament, but it counts the same as Patrik Schick’s goal from midfield earlier in the day.

The equalizer shifted Poland into an extra gear, and the Poles looked more likely to score the second until a turning point in the 62nd minute. Grzegorz Krychowiak, who was cautioned in the first half, clattered into Jakub Hromada and was sent off for a second yellow. 

After the red card, Slovakia took control of the match, and it didn’t take long for them to retake the lead. Škriniar smashed his well-placed volley off a corner kick to make it 2-1 in the 69th minute. 

Slovakia will play Sweden on Friday knowing a draw will likely be enough to see them into the knockout rounds before finishing group play against Spain. Poland now has to regroup with a showdown against Spain on Saturday, a match that could decide whether Lewandowski and Co. are able to extend their stay in Euro 2020.

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One final note: The day Marek Hamšík no longer patrols Slovakia’s midfield with his trademark mohawk will be a sad day for football. His country’s all-time leader in caps (127) and goals (26), the 33-year-old now wears the captain’s armband for Slovakia and had another excellent showing on the big stage despite having struggled for playing time recently with IFK Göteborg. 

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