Robert Lewandowski missed a penalty on another night of World Cup frustration as his Poland side had to settle for a goalless draw in their Group C opener against Mexico.
The Barcelona striker was generously awarded the chance to net his first World Cup goal — referee Chris Beath awarding the spot-kick following a VAR check — but was denied by Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
Poland offered little else in a bitty encounter with Mexico, roared on by a boisterous support at Stadium 974, far more fluid going forward, particularly down the flanks.
Mexico offered the greater threat in the first half with Hirving Lozano predictably proving their main attacking outlet.
The Napoli winger created the first chance of note after five minutes, his curling cross from the right eluding Wojciech Szczesny but Alexis Vega was unable to turn the ball home at the far post.
In a rare Poland foray shortly afterwards, Lewandowski set Jakub Kaminski free but Mexico defender Jesus Gallardo did superbly to get back and smuggle the ball to safety.
Vega came close again after 26 minutes with a header that drifted inches wide while, on the stroke of half-time, Szczesny bundled Jorge Sanchez’s cross-shot over the bar.
The second half started in a similar vein with Mexico dominating possession but their over-confidence almost cost them. Edson Alvarez dallied on the ball and it ricocheted into the area where Hector Moreno and Lewandowski wrestled before falling to the turf.
Beach initially waved play on but then pointed to the spot after consulting the monitor with replays showing Moreno had a hold of Lewandowski’s shirt.
Ochoa, so often Mexico’s hero at a World Cup, came up trumps again, however, diving to his left to palm Lewandowski’s spot-kick to safety.
The let-off failed to inspire Mexico who huffed and puffed without really testing Szczesny, bar a routine save to deny a flicked header from Henry Martin.
What does it mean? Pressure on after Argentina shock
Remarkably, day one of Group C action ends with Saudi Arabia on top of the pool following their stunning 2-1 defeat of Argentina.
That result and this stalemate heaps the pressure on Poland and Mexico as they look to advance to the knockout stages.
Mexico boss Tata Martino will be frustrated by the result if not the performance which arguably deserved more.
More World Cup frustration for Lewandowski
Even discounting his penalty miss, Lewandowski had a night to forget.
The spot-kick was his first meaningful touch in Mexico’s penalty area and he suffered from a lack of service from a hard-working but sterile midfield.
The one moment of quality from the Barcelona man came early on with a nice turn and pass to release Kaminski but his team-mate was unable to convert.
Ochoa still a genius
Described as a “genius” by Szczesny at the pre-match press conference, Ochoa again displayed his ability to shine on the biggest stage.
Aged 37 years and 132 days, Ochoa became the second-oldest goalkeeper to save a penalty at the World Cup, after Egypt’s Essam El Hadary (45 years 161 days) in a 2018 match with Saudi Arabia.
His main moment came with that save but, that aside, he showed all his experience by dealing comfortably with Poland’s limited attack.
Key Opta Stats:
– Mexico have failed to score in each of their last three World Cup matches for the first time since another three-game run between 1966 and 1970.
– 17% of Poland’s games at the World Cup have finished goalless (6/35), the highest rate of any team to play at least 15 games at the tournament.
– Poland have failed to win their opening game at the World Cup in each of their last seven participations, a run that started in 1978 (D4 L3). They have scored just one goal across those matches.
– Since his first appearance at the tournament in 2014, only Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois (39) has made more saves at the World Cup than Ochoa (37).
– Kamil Glik earned his 100th cap for Poland, the fifth player to do so, and at the age of 34 years and 292 days he also overtook Jacek Zielinski to become Poland’s oldest World Cup player.
Both teams are back in action on Saturday. Mexico take on Argentina, smarting from their stunning defeat to Saudi Arabia, while Poland meet Herve Renard’s buoyant side.
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