A stadium swathed in green made it seem like Mexico were playing at home. This venue can be dismantled and carried elsewhere, so…
Stadium 974 held 39,369 on Tuesday night when the teams met in group C but for all the advantage of getting the crowd behind them – and boy, were they not vociferous – Mexico couldn’t break Poland and prevent the day’s second successive goalless draw. It is a result that gives Argentina a chance to catch up after their 1-2 defeat to Saudi Arabia earlier in the day.
The barren scoreline at half-time suited the Europeans more because like Wales they struggled to get out of their half. Like Wales again, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny tried to bypass the midfield and play to their go-to man for goals – Robert Lewandowski.
Into the game on the back of a red card at Barcelona this month, Lewandowski had one touch in the rival penalty area. It was proof of how lonely he was up the park.
But then, big players choose their moments. Gareth Bale did on Monday night. In the 54th minute Lewandowski chose his, breaking free and forcing his way to Guillermo Ochoa’s goal. Hector Moreno stopped Lewandowski by trying to take his shirt off him and following a VAR check that took him to the monitor, Australian referee Chris Beath pointed to the penalty. It was only then you noticed that Poland too had fans on the rafters.
To the Pole star will go the dubious distinction of missing the 2022 World Cup’s first penalty, of which there has been at least one on all three days of the competition. Amid boos that rang into the night from Mexican fans, amid Poles making the sign of the cross and some who could not bear to look, Lewandowski managed an effort poor in conception and execution. It gave Ochoa the chance to dive left and stop and leaving Lewandowski holding his head in disbelief. Cue, lusty cheering and stomping of feet on the terraces.
Lewandowksi, a former Ballon d’Or winner and current holder of the Mueller Trophy – given to the player who has aggregated the most for club and country in a season – is still to open his account in the World Cup.
Poland were more aggressive in the second half which they began by replacing Nicola Zalewski with Krystian Bielik to shore up the midfield but chances were at a premium at both ends.
Mexico had almost camped in the rival half without really testing Szczesny though Alexis Vega did come close with a header that was narrowly off target. There was another opportunity later but the bounce was unkind to Jesus Gallardo and Jakub Kaminski could clear for a corner-kick.
Szczesny though had to bring out his best in the 64th minute to stop Edson Alvarez’s effort from range which was turned the other way by a flick from Hirving Lozano. Raul Jimenez, whose arrival as a substitute was met by a huge roar of approval, then embarked on a solo run and wasted the opportunity even though he had a better-placed teammate ready for a pass.
In his fifth World Cup, Ochoa has a less busier evening before and after the penalty but still had to keep out Bartosz Bereszynski’s shot from close.
Despite seven minutes of added time in the second half, the deadlock wasn’t broken and leaving Saudi Arabia leading the group, Argentina at the bottom and these two in between. Football, bloody hell!