Mexico and Poland played out a 0-0 stalemate in Tuesday’s second Group C fixture with Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa’s pivotal second-half penalty save denying striker Robert Lewandowski his first World Cup goal.
In a temporary arena built using 974 recycled shipping containers that overlooks the Arabian Gulf, a sea of Mexico fans in green outnumbered their Polish counterparts and they made their presence felt in the 40,000-capacity venue.
But action on the pitch was somewhat more subdued as both sides proved blunt in attack during a largely forgettable first half.
Mexico dominated possession throughout but without Raul Jimenez spearheading the attack, Henry Martin struggled to get on the end of chances in the box.
At the other end, Poland failed to get Lewandowski involved with the Barcelona striker – who has scored 18 goals for the Spanish club this season – receiving precious little service.
With Poland losing the midfield battle, coach Czeslaw Michniewicz made a halftime substitution by hauling off Nicola Zalewski and bringing on central midfielder Krystian Bielik, which allowed Piotr Zielinski to play in an advanced role.
The tactical change seemed to work initially as Poland began creating chances and eventually won a 58th minute penalty following a VAR review after Hector Moreno got hold of Lewandoski’s shirt and pulled him down.
Lewandowski shot low from the spot but the 37-year-old Ochoa, playing in his fifth World Cup, guessed correctly and dived to his left to prevent Poland’s captain. The 34-year-old is his country’s all-time leading scorer with 76 goals but still remains without a World Cup goal.
Not to be outdone by Ochoa’s brilliance in goal, Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny also underlined his credentials moments later when he reacted quickly to change direction and deny a glancing header from Martin
Mexico coach Gerardo Martino replaced Martin and brought on Jimenez with 20 minutes to go in the second half but the Wolverhampton Wanderers striker, who is returning from a long injury lay-off, failed to have a shot on goal.
The result leaves Saudi Arabia as group leaders following their stunning upset of Argentina, one of the favourites to lift the World Cup, earlier in the day.
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