In Robert Lewandowski’s legendary 17-year-old career, he has taken 79 penalties. He’s made 71 of them and only missed 8. Yet his 80th penalty was his most pivotal one yet.

Facing a favored Mexico team tipped to make a deep run in the knockout round, Lewandowski knew that a goal would put Poland in the driver’s seat heading into gamedays with Argentina and Saudi Arabia. He stepped up, teed one of the most important kicks of his life, swung, and missed.

In front of him was the resurgent Guillermo Ochoa celebrating with a triumphant look on his face. His clutch save conceded a corner but kept Mexico in the game and in the running to continue their World Cup dream. A tale of two outcomes eventually intertwined, and both sides emerged with a similar need; to control their own destinies later in the tournament.

With underdog side Saudi Arabia on top of the group, world-beater Argentina on the bottom, and Mexico and Poland in between, this match was pivotal for all in Group C. Both exited Stadium 974 facing even more important matches ahead.

Mexico and Poland battle to narrow draw in Group C

Mexico and Poland both had a slow first half of matchday one in Group C. Napoli winger Hirving Lozano, showing his remarkable pace, repeatedly torched the Polish defense. Although he was not the one in front of the goal most of the time, his crosses and incisive passes kept the Polish defense on guard.

Mexico’s Liga MX-oriented side put significant pressure on Wojciech Szczesny. Yet, the Mexican offense could not hit their target. Despite Mexico’s wastefulness in front of the goal, Szczesny still had to make some big saves.

Desperation consumed both sides. Within the first minutes of the last half, Lozano threatened to score yet again with multiple shots. Monterrey’s Hector Moreno fouled Lewandowski in the box, but luckily for El Tri, Ochoa resorted back to his World Cup heroics.

Although each had excellent opportunities to break the deadlock, neither capitalized in the 90 minutes. The game ended scoreless, leaving each team with one point.

Mexico fails in front of the goal

Mexico is a hotbed of great attackers. Hugo Sanchez, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, and more have all worn the proud colors of the Mexican national team. Mexico itself prides itself on its brilliant attacking football. So was their 0-0 draw an outlier?

Mexico was lackluster with their shooting, something that usually is not an issue. Chivas winger Alexis Vega was not the adventurous winger that dominated Liga MX games against Poland. None of his five shots were on target, and a stellar Polish defense quieted him for much of the game. The same can be said for the usually-prolific Henry Martin, who did force a great save out of Szczesny, but could not do much else.

Outside of Hirving Lozano, Mexico’s offensive force seemed weaker than ever. This is a huge cause for concern in advance of a crucial fixture with Argentina. A defense with Nicolas Otamendi, Cristian Romero, Nicolas Tagliafico, Lisandro Martinez and more will easily handle the Mexican team that played against Poland. Manager Gerardo Martino needs to figure out a solution to Mexico’s scoring woes.

Poland cannot keep up

Throughout the game, Poland was consistently outplayed by Mexico. Without the heroics of Szczesny, Poland would not even think about competing for a draw.

Was it the stifled offense that failed to create enough chances to see a good look at the goal? Was it the wing defense, constantly torched by Mexico’s pace? Or was it a whole team issue?

Across the board, Poland suffered when they had to hold the ball. Mexico had over 150 more passes, four more crosses, and a whopping 61% possession. El Tri moved and kept the ball better, helping them string explosive series of passes together.

Whenever Saudi Arabia gets a lot of the ball, they win. They took 57% possession against Iceland and won 1-0. They took 58% possession against Australia and won 1-0. Against Oman, they took 56% possession and won 1-0. Outside of Saudi Arabia’s shock 2-1 win over Argentina, where they had 31% possession, Saudi Arabia thrives with the ball.

PHOTO: IMAGO / Uwe Kraft

Guide to World Cup 2022

Here are some resources to help you get the most out of the biggest event in soccer!
TV Schedule: All the info on where and when to watch every game
The Groups: We breakdown each group and all the teams
The Kits: Check out what every team will be wearing on the field this fall
Predictor: Play out every scenario with our World Cup Predictor
World Cup Bracket: Map out the entire tournament, from the groups to the final