Ochoa saves Lewandowski penalty in Mexico-Poland stalemate

Poland skipper Robert Lewandowski failed to break his World Cup duck when he saw a second-half penalty saved in a goalless but entertaining draw with Mexico in their opening Group C game at Stadium 974 on Tuesday.

Lewandowski earned the penalty after a VAR check 11 minutes into the second half when Hector Moreno tugged at his shirt in the box. But the Polish striker, who has never scored at the World Cup, saw his shot saved by goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.

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"Today I feel sorry for Robert, because I know how much he wanted to score at the World Cup," Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz said. "So far he has not succeeded, but I hope that in the next opportunities that lie ahead of him he will convert them into goals."

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.

A flowing game of few fouls but fewer chances came to life around the half-hour mark when Alexis Vega saw his header fly wide before Jesus Gallardo was denied with a last-man tackle when he had an open goal at his mercy two minutes later.

Guillermo Ochoa celebrates after saving Robert Lewandowski's penalty.
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Mexico had the bulk of the possession 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 as the Barcelona striker -- who has scored 18 goals for the Spanish club this season -- received little service as both keepers finished the first half without having to make a save.

With Poland losing the midfield battle, coach Czeslaw Michniewicz made a half-time 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 the penalty which Lewandowski shot low but Ochoa guessed correctly and dived to his left to deny the skipper.

"These things happen," Michniewicz said of Lewandowski's saved penalty. "Great players haven't been scoring at great tournaments for as long I can remember. Zico, Socrates, [Michel] Platini, [Diego] Maradona -- from those championships I remember -- but also many other great footballers."

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 Martin's glancing header that was on target.

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.

"We were on the front foot in the first half, we deserved an advantage at halftime," Martino said, adding that they became "predictable and cautious" as the game wore on. "The penalty was a mistake from us, but in general terms I think we should have won the game given what we did in the first half."

The result leaves Saudi Arabia as group leaders following their stunning upset of Argentina, one of the pre-tournament favourites, earlier in the day.