"Happy defeat" for Poland as they advance to top 16; Saudi, Mexico finish at bottomtext_fields
Doha:Hugging teammates and blowing kisses to the crowd, Robert Lewandowski exited the field beaming broadly.
You wouldn't know that his squad had just suffered a crushing 2-0 World Cup defeat to Argentina.
Nevertheless, Poland barely made it into the tournament's knockout rounds thanks to Salem Aldawsari's injury-time goal for Saudi Arabia in a 2-1 loss to Mexico on Wednesday.
With that late goal, Poland finished second in Group C, ahead of Mexico on goal differential, to secure a Sunday matchup against France in the round of 16.
"You can say it's a happy defeat," said Lewandowski, who failed to even have a shot on target. "I'm not happy with the way we played. Of course not. We can't be happy with the game itself."
Lewandowski was a helpless, isolated figure as his team was held back for the entirety of the game as Poland had been utterly outplayed by Argentina. 13 of Argentina's 24 goal attempts were accurate. Poland had three but none were on goal, Associated Press reported.
"We didn't want to take any risk and, you know, we achieved our result because we reached the next round," Lewandowski said with a smile. "Even though we lost, we can be happy."
Lewandowski wasn't to blame, according to Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz, for his team's lack of offensive threat.
"I'm not attacking anyone from the team, but we didn't help him to score," Michniewicz said. "If (Lionel) Messi played for us and Robert played for Argentina, Robert would have scored five goals. Robert needed to get assistance and the match was played in our half. There were so many players covering him."
Wojciech Szczesny, the goalkeeper, made a number of saves, including one on a Messi penalty in the first half, while Karol Swiderski cleared the goal line to prevent a worse loss for Poland.
However, Poland's athletes jubilated like they had won, dousing one another with water bottles as they ran around the field.
The wait had been tense.
After Poland's match, Mexico was leading Saudi Arabia 2-0 and frantically attempting to score a third goal that would have been sufficient to advance Mexico in place of Poland.
With two goals scored and two goals conceded, Poland and Mexico each have four points at that time. Only having fewer yellow cards than Mexico's players gave Poland the advantage.
Bartosz Bereszynski, a defender for Poland, hid his face. He was unable to handle the stress.
Then Saudi Arabia's Aldawsari scored to dash Mexico's hopes.
"I guess it's the first time I felt you can be happy after a loss," Lewandowski said.
The Poland star is already looking ahead to Sunday's game against France.
"It's another favourite to win the world championship and we've nothing to lose," he said. "We know what kind of players they have but we have to enjoy it and do our best. We have to fight … France will be a huge challenge and we have to play better than today."
Even after their victory over Argentina and a strong performance in a loss to Poland, the Green Falcons were under pressure for the majority of the first half against a Mexican team that was obviously serious about winning. Mexico went into the game knowing that they needed goals to have any chance of moving forward.
Sadly, after falling to Poland in game two, they were unable to back up their success over Argentina with a win against Mexico in game three. As a result, on Wednesday at Lusail Stadium, their tournament came to an unfortunate end.
Despite defeating Saudi Arabia 2-1 in the thrilling Group C finale on Wednesday, Mexico was heartbreakingly eliminated from the World Cup due to goal difference.
Mexico won thanks to goals from Henry Martin and Luis Chavez in the second half, but following Salem Al-late Dawsari's goal, they fell to third place behind Poland.
Mexico, who was in danger of being eliminated due to FIFA's fair play rules, fought valiantly for a third goal in an effort to raise their goal difference.