DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Robert Lewandowski left the field with a huge smile on his face after blowing kisses to fans and hugging teammates.
You’d never know his team just lost a crucial World Cup game 2-0 to Argentina.
But Poland scraped into the knockout stages of the tournament, despite Wednesday’s loss to the South American champions, after Salem Aldawsari’s stoppage-time goal for Saudi Arabia in a 2-1 defeat to Mexico.
That late goal ensured Poland finished as runner-up in Group C, ahead of Mexico on goal difference, to set up a last 16 game against France on Sunday.
“You can say it’s a happy defeat,” said Lewandowski, who failed to even have a shot on target. “I’m not happy with the way we played. Of course not. We can’t be happy with the game itself.”
Poland had been thoroughly outplayed by Argentina with Lewandowski an ineffective isolated figure as his team was pegged back for the duration of the game. Argentina had 24 attempts at goal, 13 on target. Poland had three, none on target.
“We didn’t want to take any risk and, you know, we achieved our result because we reached the next round,” Lewandowski said with a smile. “Even though we lost, we can be happy.”
Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz said his team’s lack of attacking threat wasn’t Lewandowski’s fault.
“I’m not attacking anyone from the team, but we didn’t help him to score,” Michniewicz said. “If (Lionel) Messi played for us and Robert played for Argentina, Robert would have scored five goals. Robert needed to get assistance and the match was played in our half. There were so many players covering him.”
Poland had goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to thank for a string of saves — including a first-half penalty from Messi — and Karol Swiderski for a goal-line clearance that avoided a heavier defeat.
Yet Poland’s players celebrated like they’d won, spraying each other with water bottles on the field.
It had been an anxious wait.
Poland’s game finished but Mexico was leading Saudi Arabia 2-0 and desperately pushing for the third goal that would have been enough to progress at Poland’s expense.
Both Poland and Mexico had four points, with two goals scored and two goals conceded each at that moment. Poland only had the edge by having fewer yellow cards than Mexico’s players.
Poland defender Bartosz Bereszynski covered his face. He couldn’t bear the tension.
Then Aldawsari scored for Saudi Arabia to end Mexico’s hopes.
“I guess it’s the first time I felt you can be happy after a loss,” Lewandowski said.
The Poland star is already looking ahead to Sunday’s game against France.
“It’s another favorite to win the world championship and we’ve nothing to lose,” he said. “We know what kind of players they have but we have to enjoy it and do our best. We have to fight … France will be a huge challenge and we have to play better than today.”
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports