Match report as Robert Lewandowski scores his first World Cup goal to give Poland a 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia; Piotr Zielinski had given Poles first-half lead; Wojciech Szczesny’s superb double save from a penalty just before half-time helps send Poland top of Group C
Saturday 26 November 2022 22:01, UK
An emotional Robert Lewandowski said he had fulfilled a childhood dream by scoring his first World Cup goal as he helped Poland to a 2-0 victory over Saudi Arabia to send them top of Group C.
The Barcelona striker netted Poland's second just four days after he missed a crucial penalty in his team's opening goalless draw against Mexico.
Lewandowski slumped to the ground after scoring in the 82nd minute and was in tears as the 34-year-old returned to the centre circle as he finally scored in his fifth World Cup game.
"I think the older I get the more emotional I get, and I'm aware when it comes to World Cups it might be my last one actually," he said.
"After I scored, everything that I had inside - the dreams and also the importance of the goal, and how I scored - all those dreams from childhood were fulfilled and came true."
Lewandowski's goal came after Piotr Zielinski had given Poland a 39th-minute lead which was followed by some stunning Wojciech Szczesny penalty heroics in first-half stoppage time.
The former Arsenal goalkeeper first denied Salem Al-Dawsari from the spot and then saved Mohammed Al-Burayk's rebound.
But Poland's victory was sealed late on as Lewandowski capitalised on Abdulellah Al-Malki's mistake to score and leave Poland needing just a draw in their final game against Argentina on Wednesday to qualify for the last 16.
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia, who failed to follow up their shock opening victory against Argentina, still have the chance to progress to the knockout stages in their final match against Mexico.
After completing one of the World Cup's greatest ever shocks over Argentina, it was no surprise to see Saudi Arabia start the game full of confidence as Szczesny tipped over Mohamed Kanno's 13th-minute shot inside the box.
But Poland took the lead as Matty Cash's low cross found Lewandowski who lifted it over the goalkeeper and pulled it back for Zielinski to fire home (39).
But four minutes later, Saudi Arabia were given a penalty after a VAR review adjudged Krystian Bielik to have fouled Saleh Al-Shehri.
Saudi skipper Al-Dawsari, who scored the winner against Argentina, saw his low penalty saved by Szczesny, who then sensationally kept out Al-Burayk's follow-up.
Poland came close to doubling their lead in the second half as Arkadiusz Milik rattled the crossbar with a header, while Lewandowski hit the post.
But the former Bayern Munich striker finally got his first World Cup goal as he pounced on Al-Malki's mistake to coolly slide home past Mohamed Al-Owais, with the striker emotional in his celebrations.
Poland's win moves them top of Group C by a point, with Argentina avoiding an early World Cup exit after their 2-0 win against Mexico later on Saturday. They are now second on goal difference, level on three points with Saudi Arabia.
Poland need just a point from their final group game against Argentina to reach the last 16, while Saudi Arabia still have a chance to qualify for the knockout stages in their final group match against Mexico.
Lewandowski might have ended his World Cup curse but Poland have Szczesny to truly thank for this win.
The Juventus goalkeeper made one of the great double saves as he first kept out Al-Dawsari from the spot and then miraculously saved Mohammed Al-Burayk's rebound.
The former Arsenal man became the third goalkeeper to save a penalty and keep a clean sheet in the same match at the 2022 World Cup and his heroics in Al Rayyan, where he made five saves in total, have bolstered Poland's chances of reaching the World Cup's last 16 for the first time since 1986.
Asked about his forward's emotional response to scoring, Poland boss Czeslaw Michniewicz said: "I was not surprised, because I know how deeply sad he felt in the last match. The whole team supported him.
"He could have had a hat-trick today and I'm so happy for him as we were very sad after he missed the penalty in the last game. But one player will not win the match alone, the force lies within the team and they were all fabulous, and Robert gave an assist to Zielinski and also scored so we are happy."
Saudi head coach Herve Renard said his team had not put in an "efficient" performance, but he too was happy with his players despite the defeat, which followed on from the seismic shock of Tuesday's 2-1 victory over Argentina.
"We are still alive," the Frenchman said.
"We will play until the last second of our World Cup, if it's next time [against Mexico] or another time, we won't give up.
"I'm just proud of them. I know them perfectly now. I know they are sad. Some of them feel guilty but football is a team game.
"Sometimes you get success, today we failed, so we are failing together. But we have one more game and I hope, a second one and maybe more. It's important to stay concentrated and think about November 30 [the game against Mexico]."