World Cup: Memo Ochoa, Mexico tie Robert Lewandowski, Poland

When Robert Lewandowski retires, he will be remembered as one of the greatest players of his generation, seven-time Bundesliga top scorer and two-time FIFA World Player of the Year.

He will also be remembered for Tuesday.

If Memo Ochoa ever retires, which is by no means certain, he will be remembered as a consistent club player who won a league in his first season as a regular and never did it again.

He will also be remembered for Tuesday.

With a World Cup game on the horizon, Ochoa capitalized on the opportunity and Lewandowski didn’t. The Mexico goalkeeper spectacularly saved the Polish captain’s penalty to save a 0-0 draw in front of a festive and overwhelmingly Mexican crowd 39,369 at Doha’s 974 Stadium.

“Things like that happen,” said Poland coach Czesław Michniewicz with a shrug. “Great players miss their penalties. “I sympathized with him. I know how a captain who misses a penalty feels. He was very emotional about it.”

“At the World Cup,” Ochoa replied, “there are always surprises.”

Maybe. But what happened on Tuesday would come as no surprise because, despite their different career paths, Ochoa has owned the World Championship and Lewandowski hasn’t. Ochoa has made five trips to the tournament, started nine games and made 47 saves. In these games he was outstanding for 90 minutes. Against Poland, his contribution lasted only seconds.

“Memo’s parade,” said midfielder Charly Rodríguez, “gave us life.”

Lewandowski’s fleeting World Cup experience was far less successful. Although he is Poland’s all-time leader in caps and goals and has guided the team to four consecutive European Championships, he has only appeared in one World Cup so far – not scoring for a team that finished bottom in its group.

“I know how badly he wanted to score at the World Cup,” said Michniewicz.

Mexico also wanted to score and for much of the game it seemed inches away. If Mexico, who have the second-oldest squad at the tournament, are to go far at this World Cup, it will take more than the kind of big games Ochoa has shown. They also need to capitalize on their chances and they couldn’t do that against Poland, who held the ball for 54 of the 90 minutes and fired almost twice as many shots but didn’t show anything for that dominance.

Mexico were up front from the start and played their best game in at least a year but couldn’t finish it. In the fifth minute, Alexis Vega missed a cross from Hirving “Chucky” Lozano from the right wing and fired wide of the far post. Seven minutes later, Hector Moreno headed a Jesús Gallardo cross over the bar from the other end. In the 26th minute it was Vega again who nodded a Héctor Herrera shot just inches wide of the post.

Mexico's Hirving "chucky" Lozano fights for the ball, between Poles Bartosz Bereszynski and Sebastian Szymanski

Mexico’s Hirving ‘Chucky’ Lozano (centre) battles for the ball with Poland’s Bartosz Bereszynski and Sebastian Szymanski during Tuesday’s World Cup Group C match at Stadion 974 in Doha, Qatar.

(Aijaz Rahi / Associated Press)

It continued as Mexico went without a goal in their third straight World Cup game, extending their shutout streak to 294 minutes since Javier “Chicharito” Hernández’s goal against South Korea in the second game of the group stage in Russia.

“We lacked goal precision, but we had a lot of intensity and control over the game,” said Mexico coach Tata Martino. “At a World Cup you have to use your chances to score effectively.”

All of that almost went out the window early in the second half after Moreno grabbed a handful of Lewandowski’s shirt and tripped him as the two fought for possession deep in the box. Referee Chris Beath allowed the game to continue, but at the next interruption he looked at a video recording and quickly awarded a penalty.

Ochoa said he worked on penalties with goalkeeper Gustavo Piñero but wasn’t sure it was of much use.

“It’s always difficult when you watch videos of Robert Lewandowski taking penalties,” he said. “You see more than 15, 20 penalties [but] you never know which side to choose.”

This time Ochoa appeared to be decoding the Poland captain, fooling to his right and diving hard back to the left to smother the shot.

“When he misses, there’s always the question, ‘Why?'” Michniewicz said. “Yesterday he practiced penalties and never missed.”

Lewandowski did it for the first time in his international career on Tuesday. And while Martino was happy with the save, the point it earned him and the little bit of momentum it will give him ahead of Saturday’s game against Lionel Messi and Argentina, he thought his team deserved more.

“We deserved to win,” he said. World Cup: Memo Ochoa, Mexico tie Robert Lewandowski, Poland

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