The career of a football giant like Robert Lewandowski would have been incomplete without a World Cup goal. He scored it in the end and did not hide his emotions
The 82nd minute of the Poland – Saudi Arabia match, in Group C of the World Cup in Qatar. The Europeans lead 1-0, but the feeling is that the Saudis played better and deserve at least a draw. Moreover, the winners of Argentina missed a penalty and had good minutes of rush at the goal of Wojciech Szczesny, the author of a superlative performance, which kept the Poles in the match. Hervé Renard’s men prepare another assault, looking for the 1-1 goal. But Abdulelah Al Malki is careless and makes a mistake right on the edge of his own box and right in front of Robert Lewandowski. The Barcelona striker takes the ball from him and, left alone with the goalkeeper, scores without problems for 2-0. Then, like an unchaining, give free rein to emotions. And tears. Because it wasn’t just a goal that decided a match.
Was it the goal number 77 for Poland, the same number Pele has for Brazil? Yes, but that’s not why Lewa is crying. Was it his 635th career goal? Of course, but this is not the reason for the tears in the eyes of the 34-year-old striker. No, Lewandowski is more excited than ever because he just scored his first World Cup goal. On his second appearance, fifth game and 15th shot. In Qatar, he missed a penalty, in the draw with Mexico (0-0), and against the Saudis, until he scored the saving goal, he sent it into the crossbar. But he also passed for the opening score, succeeded by Piotr Zielinski, so he is the first Polish player to score and give an assist in the same match at the World Cup after 40 years. In 1982, in Spain, Janusz Kupcewicz managed the same thing against France.
Lewandowski has had an exceptional career that most only dream of. He won dozens of trophies, scored hundreds of goals, broke records that seemed unreachable, like Gerd Muller’s 40 goals in one Bundesliga season. He misses out on the Ballon d’Or, which he richly deserved, but the big goal was a World Cup goal. And the sincere joy and emotional reaction that followed the success in the match with Saudi Arabia confirms to us that the World Cup remains the number 1 competition on the planet.
But behind the release of Lewandowski is also the desire for a personal revenge. Poland does not lack football pedigree. Between 1974 and 1986, the Poles participated in the World Cup four times in a row, and twice, in 1974 and 1982, they finished on the podium. The performances of the generations led by Grzegorz Lato, Kazimierz Deyna and Zbigniew Boniek raised expectations, even if the national team suffered in the years following the fall of communism. The rise of Lewa and a number of players who have progressed around him to top clubs in Europe have fans hoping that the good times will return. But Poland’s participation in the finals ended in disappointment. Including when he was co-host, at Euro 2012.
Before Qatar, Lewa and his generation only caught the World Cup in Russia. Poland got into an accessible group 4 years ago, along with Senegal, Japan and Colombia. But he missed out on qualification and his No. 1 man didn’t even manage to score. He didn’t shy away from admitting that the 2018 World Cup was the lowest point of his career.
“People used that World Cup to bash me. If you have players like me in the national team, the expectations are very high. But alone I can do nothing. I can help my colleagues and the team to be better. But teams get wins, not one player,” Lewandowski said in an interview with Sports Illustrated in 2021.
In Qatar, Lewandowski went from the position of captain of the Polish national team. He is also the most capped player in the country’s history and its all-time top goalscorer, well clear of second-highest scorer Włodzimierz Lubański. However, something was always missing. Now, after the goal against Saudi Arabia, the minuses are less. And Lewa, freed, can focus on leading his team to another big result, 40 years in the making.