AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — First it was Lionel Messi. Next up, it’s Robert Lewandowski. The big-name opponents keep coming for Saudi Arabia.
After shocking Messi and Argentina in one of the biggest World Cup upsets, the Green Falcons turn their attention to Lewandowski and his Poland team on Saturday.
Saudi Arabia, the second lowest-ranked team in the tournament, could even book its place in the second round with a win – a remarkable achievement for a side with no foreign-based players.
Unlike the fans, Saudi Arabia’s French coach Hervé Renard is not celebrating yet.
“The Argentina game is one game of the three important games we have to play,” Renard said Friday. “The only good thing at the end of this group stage is to finish number one or number two. So whatever happens, the most important thing is to be qualified for the next round.”
His players are also looking ahead.
“We will work even harder than in the previous match,” midfielder Sami Al-Najei promised. “Everyone knows that the next match is more important than the previous one.”
That “previous one” was Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 win over Argentina, one of the tournament favorites.
“It was an excellent match for us. We were able to show an excellent image for the Saudi Arabia national team,” Saleh Al-Shehri, one of the goal-scorers, said. “But it is just three points, we haven’t qualified yet.”
Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari’s goals blew open Group C and left the other rivals scrambling for points after Mexico’s 0-0 draw with Poland.
It was Lewandowski’s fourth World Cup game and his fourth without scoring, too.
Veteran Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa saved Lewandowski’s penalty in the second half to keep the game goalless.
Scoring is second nature to Lewandowski, Poland’s record goal-scorer with 76 goals. He netted 312 goals in 384 Bundesliga games before switching to Barcelona in the offseason. He has 13 goals in 14 La Liga games for Barcelona so far.
But scoring for Poland is not as easy in coach Czeslaw Michniewicz’ 4-3-2-1 formation. Lewandowski has never made any secret of his preference for playing with a strike partner, and not alone, waiting for service from deep-lying teammates.
“There’s room for improvement going forward, we have to risk more,” Lewandowski said. “It’s very hard for a forward to track so far back. But if the coach has these tactics, then we have to adjust. Of course, as a forward I wish for more of the ball.”
Lewandowski should see more of it against Saudi Arabia, which had to rely on goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais to complete the victory over Argentina with a pair of late saves.
Yasser Alshahrani is out after his brutal collision with Al-Owais at the end of the game. It’s not clear what his injury is, but coach Hervé Renard said the defender left Doha on a “special flight” and had surgery Thursday with another procedure to follow on his face.
“Now they still have to do some more surgery for the face,” Renard said. “He’s someone very important for us. We miss him. We think about him. We’ll fight for him.”
A win for Poland would leave both teams on 3 points with all to play for in their final games in Group C. Poland faces Argentina four days later, while Saudi Arabia will play Mexico.
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