As last minutes of Polish presence in European football went in Lisbon, where Legia failed to create enough to get past weak Sporting, the facts were telling against the fine performances of both teams that were representing the country at this stage - only three shots on target in 180 minutes were not enough. The critics will point at this stat and get their opinion based rather on poor quality of chances created than tell about positives.
Since the first game of the tie, Kazimierz Moskal had to discuss Patryk Małecki's awful behavior and suspension more than second game tactics and plans for the match in Liege. He decided to start Iliev who put fine performance in Lubin last Sunday, while Wilk played with Nunez in the middle, despite problems week ago. Questionable performance by the latter was forgotten before Wisła was gone from Europe though - only because he got himself sent off unnecessarily, when his team needed his skills and help the most.
But even before, Wisła's problems with creation were obvious and Standard quickly worked their tactics around silencing Melikson and covering him closely throughout ninety minutes. Genkov was left alone to fight the battles in attack as several players were more interesting in winning it physically rather than in scoring charts. Clearly Moskal has sent his team with a fighting spirit but without clear plan of how to overcome poor Standard in football display. Character was not transferred into the quality - 32 fouls, 9 yellow cards, 1 red and only 3 shots on target between two sides during ninety minutes is poor record. Even with time, Moskal didn't get brave enough, even when Wisła was the better side with ten men, he sent his subs/guns only for last ten minutes. This was not enough to find the goal that was needed.
Legia's performance was much more about football than fist fighting, diving and hard tackling. Skorża had Rybus and Komorowski leaving the team soon but he didn't hesitate to sent them both and look for the win to leave the debate of how to replace new Terek signings for the time after. Interestingly, he decided also to field Michał Żyro, despite his arguably poor performances in 2012.
First minutes were nervous but Legia grew in confidence with time, and even early stressful punches from Kuciak did not cost them a bit, while Ljuboja's strong will and Rybus' tricks gave impression that Polish team may go for it against Sporting. But it was too chaotic performance in the first half, from both sides, and they didn't create too much - few crosses that were dangerous for Slovakian keeper in visitors goal, few moves on the wings that won Legia only space but not situations to score. Frustration at half time came only from impression that Skorża's men could go for it, only if they had committed more numbers when going forward.
If something changed for the second half, it was the frustration of Skorża, who gave Żyro only a quarter to impress him but as young winger failed to do so, then came Michał Kucharczyk. He gave the pace and technique, and finally the trio of Ljuboja, Rybus and Legia first sub was linking well enough to pass more in the attacking third. Sporting was pushed back and when Skorża went all brave and sent Wolski on for chaotic Rzeźniczak, Legia was the best in the tie, only lacking a goal.
Sadly, it was tiring Sporting that scored and once again Legia's defence will be rightly accused of ball-watching when Carrico sent low free kick from the left hand side and it went all the way into Kuciak's goal. Nobody even moved and Skorża went mental on the sidelines. With seven minutes left and two goals needed, not even quick substitution of Hubnik gave them the edge to find even a single goal.
Although a fantastic adventure for Legia's young squad, there is a feeling that it could last a bit longer - with a draw that was far more easier on the pitch than on the paper, it was the experience that Skorża's side lacked. Arguably, they should have had it already from the group stages and qualifications, but it looked like there was not enough bravery in manager's head. Maciej Skorża should read the game earlier, see the chances and go for it with nothing to lose - even change the shape (4-2-3-1) he loves so much for the sake of winning in Lisbon.
Wisła's approach was wrong too - in a heated tie both on the pitch and on the stands, Moskal had a team with a passion but lacking quality and leaders when going forward. His chances were put only on Melikson shoulders and without a plan B, it was game of fist-fighting, tackling and discussions, not skills, counter attacks and shots. He failed to change it at half time, put players' minds on the right goal and plan.
That is why bigger lesson from these games will go to both managers' hands, not even players. Skorża and Moskal are quite different and especially the CV of the first one is much richer and it was seen of how his team played. But even he, with the biggest chance of his managerial career in European cups, failed to get the bravery ahead of security.
On the positive note, Polish fans for last few years lived with a feeling that the gap between their sides and even average rivals from western leagues is not shrinking, but today's matches showed something else. In both cases, managers did their job well on the training pitch during winter break, even if they were left without support in the transfer market from their boards. With talent, youth mixed with experience, there is something to look ahead for, and it's not only the Ekstraklasa's season that still lasts. What a comforting feeling it is, that there is always the next one.