DOHA, Qatar (AP)After Guillermo Ochoa had made one of the biggest penalty saves of his career – against Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, no less – his thoughts immediately turned to Mexico’s next World Cup opponent.
And who can blame him, because that next game is against Argentina on Saturday.
Ochoa stopped Lewandowski’s second-half penalty to preserve a 0-0 draw with Poland on Tuesday. The game was played shortly after Saudi Arabia shook up Group C with a 2-1 upset victory over Argentina.
If Mexico can also exploit Argentina’s vulnerabilities, the team will be in good position for the group finale against Saudi Arabia.
”From the start we knew we had a tricky group,” Ochoa said. ”We wouldn’t underestimate any opponent. We have a tough opponent in the next game. But Mexico is also a tough team.”
Lewandowski is Poland’s all-time leading scorer with 76 goals, but he remains without one at the World Cup.
The Barcelona striker was awarded the penalty following a VAR review after Hector Moreno got hold of his shirt and pulled him down. He took a deep breath before his attempt.
Ochoa, playing in his fifth World Cup, dived to make the stop, then came up yelling in celebration, sending the crowd into chants of ”Memo!”
While Mexico dominated possession, Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny turned away all four of El Tri’s shots on goal.
Mexico has made it to the knockout round in the last seven World Cups, but the ”quinto partido,” or fifth game, has eluded the team. El Tri’s best showing at the World Cup was reaching the quarterfinals in 1970 and 1986 as hosts.
Poland was making its second straight World Cup appearance. The team was eliminated in the group stage in 2018.
Jorge Sanchez had a good chance for Mexico in the 44th minute but Szczesny, who plays for Juventus, pushed it over the crossbar.
”It is a pity we weren’t able to score. But it was a close match and there weren’t very many opportunities on both sides,” Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz said.
It was Ochoa’s denial of Lewandowski, who moved from Bayern Munich to Barcelona this season and has 13 goals in 14 appearances, that brought the stadium filled with mostly green jerseys to their feet.
”It seems like we’re playing at home,” Ochoa said of the contingent of fans who traveled to Qatar.
It wasn’t the first time Ochoa had come up big on soccer’s biggest stage: In 2014 he made six saves in a scoreless draw with Brazil, which was among the favorites as the tournament’s host. He even denied Brazil striker Neymar on a header and afterward called it the ”game of a lifetime.”
El Tri has been dogged by criticism heading into the World Cup.
Mexico’s all-time leading scorer, Javier ”Chicharito” Hernandez, was left off the roster for Qatar by coach Gerardo ”Tata” Martino. Hernandez, who currently plays for the LA Galaxy, had played in the last three World Cups, but hasn’t appeared with the national team since 2019.
Martino was also criticized for including Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Raul Jimenez, who has struggled with a groin injury. Replaced by Henty Martin to start, Jimenez came in as a substitute in the second half.
Martino said Argentina’s loss will change Mexico’s preparations.
”Nobody should be surprised. These are the results that can only happen in the first stage of the World Cup,” Martino said. ”We thought that would be a win by Argentina.”
The match was played at Stadium 974, named after Qatar’s country code. The stadium was built from old shipping containers and will be eventually dismantled – Qatar’s solution to the ”white elephant” stadiums that went largely unused after other World Cups.
There was also history made. Stephanie Frappart of France became the first woman to officiate a men’s World Cup match, serving as the fourth official.
Frappart joins Japan’s Yamashita Yoshimi and Rwanda’s Salima Mukansanga among the 36 referees selected for the tournament.
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