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Backup goalkeeper Łukasz Fabiański was Poland’s surprising hero against Switzerland

The Swansea keeper put on a master class between the sticks against Switzerland.

Switzerland v Poland - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016 Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Poland was not the best side against Switzerland in the European Championship round of 16. The Swiss grew into the game, threading passes and letting Xherdan Shaqiri run riot. The side will feel hard done by to go down on penalties and have their tournament cut cruelly short. While they played Poland off the park as the game wore on, they ran into a wall, a wall that wasn’t even supposed to play in this tournament. Łukasz Fabiański single-handedly kept Poland in the game, and was undoubtedly their best player in their 5-4 penalty win, after the game ended tied 1-1.

The career of a goalkeeper can be a frustrating one. There’s only one on the pitch, and due to their more limited physical responsibilities, they tend to age slower than outfield players. If you can’t get into a starting XI, much of your career will be spent on the sidelines. So it was with Fabiański. The 31-year-old keeper was at one point resigned to the fate of forever riding the bench, having played backup at Arsenal for almost a decade before getting a transfer to Swansea and finally earning a No. 1 job. He’s even been surpassed on the Polish depth chart of late by former club teammate Wojciech Szczęsny. But then Szczęsny got injured during Poland’s first match against Northern Ireland, and Fabiański got his chance.

He did not disappoint. He put on a goalkeeping master class against Switzerland. He made seven saves, some of them absolute stunners to keep Poland in the match. Twenty shots came his way, and while Xherdan Shaqiri’s wonder strike was unstoppable, Switzerland could have easily put two or three away. Fabiański would have none of it. His best stop was this one in extra time, on Eren Derdiyok.

Credit: user shutupdude44 on r/soccer

It wasn’t just Fabiański’s shot-stopping that made him Poland’s best player today. Their only goal was scored on a counterattack that Fabiański began. Fabiański collected a ball in the box and released Kamil Grosicki on a lightning-quick and pin-perfect throw.

Credit: user fredsports on r/soccer

Grosicki was in an ocean of space, taking off down the left flank. He got lucky on a deflection but then played a dummy to Arkadiusz Milik to serve up Jakub Błaszczykowski for the strike. Grosicki, Milik and Błaszczykowski got all the credit, but that goal doesn’t happen without the vision, instincts and technique of Fabiański.

Poland is off to the quarterfinals, and many will question whether the team can make a deep run based on their overall performance. Those cracks can be papered over when you have a goalkeeper willing to stand on his head and launch counterattacks on his own. Łukasz Fabiański fits the bill.