Wales’ Euro bid against Poland to lean on unusual charm

Forget plotting how to stop Robert Lewandowski.

Wales coach Robert Page seemingly has just one job to do before sending his team out to play Poland in Tuesday’s playoff final for a place at the European Championship.

Keep one of his key defenders away from a razor.

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Wales right-back Connor Roberts said he has never lost a game at club level while he has sported a mustache. His first unbeaten run came last season with Burnley as the team cruised to promotion from the second-tier Championship and he is repeating the feat now after dropping down to the same division to play on loan at Leeds, who have surged into first place.

“I think it has played about 25 Championship games and never lost,” the 28-year-old Roberts said of his mustache. “So, I hope that continues in the Championship and maybe it gives us a bit of luck on Tuesday.

“It’s the power of the ‘tache, isn’t it?”

It was put to Page that Roberts’ wife, Georgina, is a big fan of the facial hair.

“That’s more important isn’t it? We all know about that, surely. Keeping them happy,” Page said, laughing. “He’ll be keeping it.”

While Wales no longer have their long-time talisman in Gareth Bale, who retired in January last year after the World Cup in Qatar, Poland still have their superstar player in Lewandowski.

The 35-year-old Barcelona striker has scored 82 goals for Poland and only three European players — Romelu Lukaku, Ferenc Puskas and Cristiano Ronaldo — have more.

If Poland go on to qualify, it could be Lewandowski’s final international tournament.

“He is a fantastic player, absolutely,” Page said. “We’ll have to respect that, of course. But it stops there. It goes out the window.

“We have done some analysis on him, we will show our defenders his strengths and weaknesses, what he is capable of doing — though we already know it.”

Wales captain Ben Davies praised Lewandowski, saying he has “seen it all and scored all types of goals.”

“He is one of those strikers, you give him any sniff of a chance and it can turn into a goal,” Davies said. “We have to be really dialed in to stop him.”

Wales are on a seven-match unbeaten streak since a sticky spell in June, when the team lost back-to-back qualifiers — to Turkey and Armenia — that suggested they would struggle without Bale.

Bale, Wales’ all-time leading scorer with 41 goals, scored all three of the nation’s goals as they beat Austria then Ukraine in the playoffs in 2022 to reach a first World Cup since 1958.

For the Welsh, it’s now more of a team effort.

“It shows how far we’ve come in a short space of time,” Page said. “We’re only one tournament past Gareth’s retirement and we’re one win away from qualifying.

“We’re a country where, if we can be there or thereabouts at the end of the campaign to qualify while we are still in this transition of introducing young players without some of the world-class senior players we’ve had, we are in a good place.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.