Robert Lewandoski missed a huge chance to get Poland off to the best possible start to their World Cup campaign, with World Cup hero Guillermo Ochoa saving his second half penalty. The Barcelona striker was brought down by Hector Moreno as he ran through on goal and despite originally waving away Lewandoski’s shouts, the referee gave the penalty after being advised to review the decision at the pitch side monitor. However, the 34-year-old could not convert, with Ochoa diving the right way. Poland now has the unwanted record of becoming the first side to miss three consecutive World Cup penalties, also missing in 2002 against USA and against Argentina in 1978.Embed from Getty Images
The former Bayern Munich striker holds the weight of his country on his shoulders as their captain and talisman, but he could not deliver when his country needed him most. It was a poor penalty to the right of Ochoa and at the perfect height for the Club America keeper to make the save. There have already been three penalties in the tournament so far and this is the first one that has been missed by anyone so far. Lewandoski has taken 71 penalties in his illustrious career, and this is just the ninth he has failed to convert, and it could not have come at a less convenient time. Poland manager Czeslaw Michniewicz was supportive of his star man after the match. Michniewicz said, “We have a monitor in the dressing room, he watched a few replays of it. He has to digest it himself; he knows how he will deal with the situation. We know he will help us a lot in this tournament.”
Considering the lack of chances throughout the game, if Lewandoski converted the penalty then it looked likely Poland would have taken all three points which would have been crucial in what seems like a tight group. Argentina’s shock defeat earlier in the day to Saudi Arabia blew the group right open and a victory for Poland would have seen them go level on points with Saudi Arabia at the top of the group. Ochoa is a World Cup relic and always seems to bring his best performance to the tournament, with a phenomenal tournament in the 2018 World Cup ad yet again brought his best on the World’s biggest stage. His opposite number Wojciech Szczesny was full of praise for him and his performance. The Juventus goalkeeper said, “I congratulate him [Ochoa], because he made an unbelievable save.”
Poland’s star striker was kept quiet throughout the game, as Michniewicz’s side only had two shots on goal and just 40% possession, as they struggled to build any real attacking play. Many Poland fans will be confused why the manager did not pick Arkadiusz Milik to play alongside Lewandoski. Milik has scored four goals in seven starts for a struggling Juventus side this season, which is an average of 0.51 goals per 90 minutes and Poland simply can’t afford to leave a player like that on the bench. Instead, Sousa picked Piotr Zielinski up front who is predominately a midfielder. Zielinski has scored six goals and bagged seven assists in all competitions from 21 games for a thriving Napoli side, but he was ineffective in this game as he was played out of his natural position.
Matty Cash made his World Cup debut for Poland, following his switch in national allegiance from England to Poland, as his mother is Polish. The Aston Villa defender was working at River Island just eight years ago after being released by Wycombe Wanderers and is now playing on the World’s biggest stage. Cash received his Polish passport in October 2021 and made his debut just a month later in a victory over Andorra in World Cup qualifying and scored his first goal in a draw against the Netherlands in the nations league.Embed from Getty Images
Roma midfielder Nicola Zalewski was also making his debut in the tournament, as the 20-year-old has only played eight times in total for Poland in his career. Zalewski has made 16 appearances in all competitions this season for Jose Mourinho’s Roma side.
Despite their troubles going forward, Poland managed to keep Mexico to limited big chances, with stalwart defender Kamil Glik playing well and ensuring that Szczesny did not have lots of difficult saves to make. Glik made his 99th cap for his country and will pick up his century of caps if he plays against Saudi Arabia.
Szczesny was called into action in the latter stages of the second half, as Edson Alvarez’s shot deflected towards the far corner, but the Juventus goalkeeper managed to push the ball wide and Poland cleared. The shot from Alvarez was one of 14 that Mexico fired at the Poland goal, but they were only able to manage just five on target. It felt like Poland were the away side at Stadium 974, with the majority of the stadium filled with Mexico fans who were not afraid to make sure their voices were heard, creating a brilliant atmosphere.
Poland now face Saudi Arabia on Saturday afternoon in a crucial game for their qualification into the next round of the tournament. The Saudis will be buoyed by their incredible victory over Argentina that sent shockwaves round the world and led to a national holiday in the country, such was the scale of the victory. However, Poland will still be expected to win, as Herve Renard’s side are one of the lowest ranked teams in the whole tournament and Michniewicz’s side simply have to win if they want to progress out the group. Mexico face Argentina and if Lionel Scaloni’s side can defeat Mexico and Poland can beat Saudi Arabia then they will sit happy at the top of the group going into the last match against favourites Argentina. The European side will be aiming to improve on their disappointing campaign in the 2018 Russia World Cup when they were knocked out in the group stages, losing both their first two games and scoring just two goals in total.Embed from Getty Images