Robert Lewandowski assists and scores to bag Poland a victory.
The Saudis were one win away from securing a place in the last 16 for only the second time in their history. The first being 1994; Belgium, Saeed Al-Owairan – all that. Poland’s uninspiring goalless draw with Mexico – in which Robert Lewandowski missed a penalty – surely gave the Saudis extra belief that they could make it. Not that they really required it, after seeing off Lionel Messi et al.
Poland, meanwhile, felt a win was essential, with a final game against pre-tournament favourites Argentina coming up.
Saudi Arabia takes charge
Right from the start, it was a tense match with multiple yellow cards and a dominant Saudi Arabia display. But Robert Lewandowski and team pulled off a massive performance to take home the three points; pressing when they had to and sitting back and defending otherwise.
Saudi Arabia enjoyed 57 percent of possession in the opening minutes. But it was Poland who nearly fashioned the first big chance, with Bereszynski rolling a pass down the inside-left channel that nearly found Lewandowski in the box. The ball sailed through to Al Owais in the Saudi goal.
Saudi would have their chances with Kano. He would drive forward deep into Poland’s half, before combining with a teammate and then drawing a fine save from the keeper. They would continue probing the Poles for the opening 35 minutes.
But then Poland won their first corner down the right, and nearly converted it. Zielinski swung it in; Bielik rose and sent a powerful header goalwards. Al Shehri, near his own goalline, eyebrowed it over the bar. Nothing comes of the next corner.
Poland wouldn’t have to wait for long. Saudi Arabia were the better side, but it was Poland who led. Cash was sent scampering into space down the right. He crossed low; Lewandowski tried to lift the ball over Al Owais, but the ball broke to the right of the six-yard box. Lewandowski chased after the ball himself and cut back for Zielinski, who roofed home from six yards.
Quickly after, the Saudis would get their clearest chance – a penalty – due to a fault from Bielik, who made contact with Al-Shehri.
Al Brikan prepared to take the shot, before Lewandowski trotted up and stood in front of him. Such delaying tactics seemed to be deployed in a bid to unsettle Al Brikan. The appeared to have worked, when Al Dawsari then stepped up and aimed for the bottom left, only to be frustrated by a parry by Szczesny. The rebound fell to Al Burayk, who shot up, prompting Szczesny to make a stunning reflex save.
The second half also saw a dominant display by the Saudis, but with no end product. Al Dawsari started the half working his way down the left and earning a corner from Milik. The ball worked from left to right, and was swung into the box by Al Burayk. Kanno attempted an overhead kick, but he was no Richarlison.
And then, a huge tangle ensued in the Polish box. Al Abid, Al Dawsari and Al Shehri all attempted to prod the ball home from six yards; legs and boots poking out of an absurd comic-strip cloud. Somehow, they couldn’t get past Szczesny, who made a stop. His defenders chipped in with a couple of blocks, and eventually the ball was blazed over the bar.
Shortly after, a beautiful spin on the edge of the Poland box by Al Dawsari made space in the pocket and allowed Al Brikan to slip into the box. Al Brikan shot across Szczesny, but wide and high.
But that’s not to say the Poles didn’t have their chances too. Frankowski crossed from the left; Milik launched into a Keith Houchenesque diving header, aiming for the top left. His header crashed off the bar and away. And then, a low cross from the right was met by Lewandowski, who side footed over Al Owais and onto the right-hand post.
Lewandowski would get his goal in the closing minutes – it was a gift from the Saudis and against the run of play. Al Bulayhi, on the left-hand corner of his own box, rolled a pass along the line towards Al Malki in the middle. Al Malki took his eye off the ball and let it roll under his boot. Lewandowski nicked it away and slots past Al Owais – simple as that.
That wasn’t to say the Saudis ran out of steam. There was a chance for Alobud to run at the last man Bereszynski, but the defender was not to be moved. Some stubborn behaviour, and Alobud was forced to turn tail.
Poland will be delighted by the massive three points, and had to dig deep for that win. It might have been different, had Salem Al Dawsari – Saudi Arabia’s hero against Argentina – scored from the spot just before half time. However, Wojciech Szczęsny saved, then tipped the rebound effort spectacularly over the bar, and it turned out to be one of those days for the Saudis, who were impressive in attack but just couldn’t find the final touch. But it’s still all to play for in Group C.