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Striking certainties, striking dilemmas

MARK McGHEE is a former Bundesliga centre forward who knows his fussball inside out.

Robert Lewandowski is one of the top strikers in Europe and is certain to spearhead the Polish attack  Photograph: Getty
Robert Lewandowski is one of the top strikers in Europe and is certain to spearhead the Polish attack Photograph: Getty

But he wouldn't actively require those credentials to pinpoint Poland's main goal threat both in the friendly against Scotland in Warsaw in midweek, and when the two teams get together for real during Euro 2016 qualifying. That man, of course, is Robert Lewandowski, the 25-year-old native of the city and former Lech Poznan player, who has 18 goals in his 56 appearances at international level, and spent time recently putting his signature to a five-year deal at reigning European champions Bayern Munich worth an eye-watering €11 million a year.

Identifying who will lead the line for Scotland during the qualifiers is a rather more uncertain process, however. Steven Fletcher may be given a chance to fire himself into pole position today when Sunderland take on Manchester City in the Capital One Cup final at Wembley, although to date his international career has been more notable for unavailability and injury.

With Jordan Rhodes and Celtic new boy Leigh Griffiths sitting this one out, also retaining his place in the squad is Ross McCormack, a man who worked with McGhee at Motherwell and is currently celebrating a higher profile than ever before, courtesy both of his current status as Championship top scorer, and his dramatic deadline-day appearance on Sky Sports news. For the uninitiated out there, this saw the Leeds club captain defend manager Brian McDermott against the intriguing intransigence of incoming Italian owner Massimo Cellino.

You suspect McGhee would love to see one of this list make themselves indispensable before Scotland enter qualifying action in Germany in September, although the fall-back option isn't too bad either: Steven Naismith continues to impress with Everton, where his seven goals this season prove he is capable of leading the line with brawn and intelligence, even if many suspect he isn't a natural centre forward.

"Poland won't look much further than Lewandowski for their centre forward," he said. "He moves well, is clever, quick and makes great runs, a bit like Fernando Torres at his best. We have people of that ilk, with Steven Fletcher and the likes of Leigh Griffiths. It would be brilliant to have it nailed on. I'd love to see it and I do believe there is one out there."

Fletcher and US international striker Jozy Altidore operate a timeshare up front for the Black Cats but McGhee knows that games such as today's Capital One Cup final against Manchester City can ignite a career. "There can be a dawning for a player when they go to a cup final and you're the man," he said. "You've maybe never played in one before but you step up to the mark. You realise you can crack it on the big stage and get the winning goal. This is the kind of situation for Fletch to go in there and really show how good a player he is. He's like anyone else, he needs to be in a team playing confidently, with service and in the right half of the pitch. I think you'll now see him at his best for Scotland but that's not up to him alone."

McCormack still has a way to go to become the first man on Gordon Strachan's teamsheet, but there were signs of a new-found maturity even before he pulled what could be termed a reverse-Peter Odemwingie on deadline day.

"Ross has not had a run at it but he knows how I feel about him," said McGhee. "In a couple of games he's come on and not done as well as he can do. In Gordon's eyes he's not done enough at the moment to convince him he should be in the starting line-up. But we rate him and he's doing very well for Leeds United.

"So he's got the opportunity to step up and show he can do it at this level," he added. "A lot of people misunderstand his attitude because he's got that cheeky chappy thing about him. But he's a great lad and takes it seriously. He's the Leeds captain, which says something about him and shows he's taken a step in maturity. Everyone saw him on Sky Sports on Deadline Day and although he was put on the spot he handled it really well. As a former manager I have a great deal of respect for him for standing up for his manager. A lot of players would think 'the King is dead, long live the King' but he backed the man he liked working with."

The Poland match has the look of a phoney war about it, coming so close before the two teams lock horns in their European Championship qualifying group. Since the collapse of Poland's World Cup ambitions in a tense group which included England, Ukraine and Montenegro, they are under new management in the form of Adam Nawalka, the former Gornik Zabrze coach. While their hopes are hindered by a cruciate ligament injury to Lewandowski's erstwhile Borussia Dortmund team-mate Jakob ­Blaszczykowszki, Artur Boruc will battle it out with Arsenal's Wojciech ­Szczesny for the start in goal, while another Dortmund man, Lukasz Piszczek, and Kamil Glik of Torino are stalwarts in defence.

"The qualifying game is far enough off to not worry about giving too much away," said McGhee. "By the time the next game comes around they'll have done their homework on us and we'll have done the same to them. But if anything we might take more from it than them because it's an away game for us and gives our lads a chance to look at the stadium.

"Poland will be alerted by our Croatia results and they'll look at them closely trying to work out how it happened. But I still think they'll reckon they're the second team in the section and will qualify."

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