Poland captain Robert Lewandowski failed to break his World Cup duck when he had a second-half penalty saved in a goalless, but thrilling draw against Mexico in their first Group C match on Stadium 974, on Tuesday.
Lewandowski was awarded the penalty following an 11-minute VAR review into the second period when Hector Moreno tugged at his shirt inside the box. However, Lewandowski’s shot was saved by Polish attacker, who not scored in this World Cup, saw his shot blocked in the goal of goalie Guillermo Ochoa.
“Today I am sad for Robert as I understand the desire he had to score goals at the World Cup,” Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz stated. “So far, he hasn’t achieved his goal, but I’m hoping that in the future opportunities which lie ahead they will turn to goals.”
In a temporary venue constructed with recycled shipping containers that look out over the Arabian Gulf, a sea of Mexico fans wearing green overtook their Polish counterparts, and were a force to be reckoned with in the venue with a capacity of 40,000.
A fluid game that saw only a handful of mistakes, but less chances was ignited after the half-hour mark. Alexis Vega saw his header go wide, and Jesus Gallardo was denied with an unforced tackle after the goal was in his grasp within two minutes.
Mexico was the main beneficiary of possession, but with Raul Jimenez leading his attack Henry Martin struggled to make the most of the opportunities inside the box.
In the opposite direction, Poland failed to get Lewandowski in the game because the Barcelona striker, which has netted 18 goals with the Spanish club this seasonwas not given much attention since both goalkeepers finished the first half with no need to save a shot.
With Poland losing midfield the coach Czeslaw Michniewicz opted for a mid-game substitution by removing Nicola Zalewski and bringing on central midfielder Krystian Bielik. This allowed Piotr Zielinski to take on an advanced position.
GP G D PTS GD
1 – S. Arabia 1 1 0 0 +1 3
2. Poland 1 0 0. 1
3 – Mexico 1 0 0 0 0 1
4 . Argentina 1 1 – 0 0 0 0 0
The top two countries are qualified for round 16
The change in tactics appeared to be working initially, as Poland began to create chances , and ultimately won the penalty. Lewandowski shot low, but Ochoa was right and dropped to his left to block the captain.
“These events occur,” Michniewicz said of Lewandowski’s save penalty. “Great players haven’t scored at tournaments of great quality since as long as I remember. Zico, Socrates, [MichelMichel Platini and [Diego”Diego Maradona — all from the championships I can remember as well as numerous outstanding footballers.”
Not to be left out by the brilliance of Ochoa’s goal, Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny has also proved his mettle shortly after when he responded quickly to alter direction to block Martin’s header , which was well-placed.
Mexico Coach Gerardo Martino took over from Martin and was replaced by Jimenez in the 20th minute to play in the second half however, Jimenez, the Wolverhampton Wanderers striker, who has returned from a lengthy lay-off due to injury, was unable to shoot at goal.
“We did not have the leading on the front in the first period, and we were entitled to an advantage at the half-time break,” Martino said, noting that the team were “predictable and more cautious” in the course of play as went on. “The goal was an unfortunate blunder by us, however in general terms , I think we could have easily taken the win given the way our team did during the opening half.”
The outcome is leaving Saudi Arabia as group leaders after their shocking defeat of Argentina which was one of the favourites for the tournament earlier in the day.