Guillermo Ochoa saved a Robert Lewandowski penalty as Mexico and Poland played out a 0-0 draw in their World Cup Group C opener in Doha.
Mexico were the more dangerous side in a game bereft of genuine attacking quality, but Poland had the best chance to claim all three points when Lewandowski was brought down in the area by Hector Moreno and a penalty was awarded after a VAR review.
Lewandowski dusted himself down but saw a tame spot-kick saved by 37-year-old goalkeeper Ochoa, who is making a record fifth appearance at the World Cup finals.
Ochoa’s heroics galvanised Mexico’s players, and their fervent support in the stands, but they were unable to convert that into a victory, as a share of the spoils left both nations behind Group C leaders Saudi Arabia – who stunned Argentina earlier on Tuesday – after one game played.
Big moments in the game…
- 26 min: Alexis Vega’s back-post header loops inches wide
- 28 min: Moment of panic as Poland goalkeeper Szczesny races off his line to confront Gallardo, but his defence deal with the threat when the ball breaks loose
- 45 min: Jorge Sanchez’s shot nearly catches Szczesny out at his near post, but he recovers to turn ball behind for a corner
- 52 min: Hirving Lozano’s dipping shot from distance forces save from Szczesny
- 58 min: Robert Lewandowski sees penalty saved by Guillermo Ochoa after being fouled by Hector Moreno
Lewandowski fails to break Mexico stalemate
Mexico just about shaded a cagey opening quarter and registered the game’s first chance when Alexis Vega rose at the back post and sent a header looping inches wide.
Moments later, Jesus Gallardo’s run in the area forced Wojciech Szczesny off his line but the Poland defence were on hand after the ball ricocheted past their goalkeeper.
After an uneventful first period the game came to life after the break. Hirving Lozano’s dipping shot from distance forced Szczesny into action within seven minutes of the restart before a VAR intervention handed Poland the chance to break the deadlock.
Moreno was adjudged to have hauled Lewandowski down in the area – the penalty was awarded despite Mexican protests – but goalkeeper Ochoa made a brilliant save to deny Poland’s all-time leading goalscorer a maiden World Cup goal from 12 yards.
The conditions were set perfect for Mexico to push on and secure victory, but it failed to materialise as both sides settled for an opening-night point.
Stalemate in Doha – Opta stats
- Mexico have failed to score in each of their last three World Cup matches, the first time they have done so since another three-game run between 1966 and 1970.
- 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 seven matches.
- Since full data collection is available for the World Cup (1966), Poland are the first team to fail to convert three consecutive penalties – Kazimierz Deyna vs Argentina in 1978, Maciej Zurawski vs USA in 2002, and Robert Lewandowski vs Mexico this year.
- Aged 37 years and 132 days, Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa is the second-oldest goalkeeper to save a penalty at the World Cup, after Egypt’s Essam El Hadary in 2018 vs Saudi Arabia (45 years 161 days).
- Since his first appearance at the tournament in 2014, only Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois (39) has made more saves at the World Cup than Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa (37).
The draw means Saudi Arabia remain top of Group C after their shock victory over Argentina, with Herve Renard’s side able to qualify for the last 16 if they beat Poland on Saturday.
It will also be all to play for when Mexico face Argentina in four days’ time in a game of must-win proportions for Lionel Messi and co.
Player of the match – Guillermo Ochoa
He may have had little to do repelling a toothless Polish attack, but when called upon Ochoa produced a moment befitting of a man embarking on his fifth appearance at a World Cup finals.
Lewandowski’s penalty was poor, but it needed saving, and save it Ochoa did in a moment which very nearly propelled Mexico to victory, such was its significance and timing.
It underscored the important role Ochoa will play if Mexico are to progress past the last-16 stage at a World Cup for the first time in 36 years. With his attacking team-mates off colour, and now goalless in three World Cup games, keeping the ball out of their net will be crucial.
Mexico face Argentina on Saturday, kick-off 7pm, while Poland play Saudi Arabia earlier that day at 1pm.
The winners of Group C will face the runner-up from Group D, containing France, Denmark, Australia and Tunisia. The runner-up in Group C will face the winners of Group D.