“Messi didn’t score, did he?” – Michniewicz defends Lewandowski as Poland survive tense Group C final

Czeslaw Michniewicz defended Robert Lewandowski’s performance after Poland reached the round of 16 of the World Cup despite defeat to Argentina in Wednesday’s dramatic Group C final.

Goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez helped Argentina recover from Lionel Messi’s missed first-half penalty to top Group C, leaving Poland nervously watching Mexico’s match against Saudi Arabia.

Poland were expected to beat second-placed Mexico due to their disciplinary record for much of the second half, but Saudi Arabia’s final consolation in a 2-1 defeat ensured El Tri exit the tournament on difference networks.

Despite Poland advancing from their World Cup group for the first time since 1986, Lewandowski was criticized for not registering a single shot in the match, but Michniewicz believes he was hampered by a lack of serve.

“He was very involved and busy, I’m not attacking anyone from our team, but we didn’t help him,” said Michniewicz.

“If our team had had the highest percentage of possession, if Messi had played for us and Robert for them, I am convinced that Robert would have scored five.

“Robert needs conditions, he needs to be assisted, and he was playing in our half. There were a lot of players covering for him.

“He’s a great player and there have been several one-on-ones. Messi didn’t score, right? That’s all.

“I think we expect Robert to score. He wanted to, but we didn’t get the opportunity.”

Before Salem Al Dawsari reduced the arrears for Saudi Arabia, Poland held a narrow disciplinary lead over Mexico, picking up five yellow cards during group matches to El Tri’s seven.

Asked if he had told his team to focus on avoiding late bookings, Michniewicz added: “I said avoid stupid bookings.

We also discussed it on the bench, we were afraid that one of the players would get a card and then we wouldn’t go through.

“Names from the bench wouldn’t count, we were told, but we were doing everything we could to avoid provocations.”

While Poland failed to score a shot on goal during a mild performance, Michniewicz was visibly annoyed by his side’s criticism, opting to enjoy qualification following failed group stage campaigns in 2002, 2006 and 2018.

“We got promoted after so many years, we faced this difficult group. Let’s have fun. We still have until Sunday to criticize,” he said. “Were you watching the match? What can I say? We lost, it wasn’t good football, but it’s bittersweet.”

Eager to suspend his media duties, Michniewicz added: “It’s really late, the prime minister is calling and I can’t answer!”

Poland face world champions France for a place in the quarter-finals at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday, while Argentina take on Australia on Saturday.

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