Robert Lewandowski suffered fresh World Cup misery as the Poland striker’s penalty was saved by Guillermo Ochoa in a 0-0 draw against Mexico on Tuesday.
Lewandowski has never scored at a World Cup and the Barcelona striker had admitted it would be a “huge dream” to finally get off the mark on the global stage.
Instead, the 34-year-old’s dream turned into a nightmare when he won a second-half penalty, only to see Ochoa deny him from the spot.
Lewandowski, Poland’s record scorer with 76 goals, has netted 18 times in 19 appearances for Barcelona, the club he joined in the close-season after bagging 344 goals in eight trophy-filled years at Bayern Munich.
Yet the World Cup has proved hellish for Lewandowski, with this latest goalless outing coming after he failed to score in Poland’s three games when they bowed out in the group stage four years ago.
Saudi Arabia’s stunning 2-1 win over Argentina earlier on Tuesday had blown open the race to progress to the last 16 from Group C.
But this was a frustrating draw for both teams, with Lewandowski wasting the best chance of a cagey game and Mexico ruing their failure to turn territorial dominance into goals.
“When Robert misses there is always the question why. He will answer that best. Yesterday he trained and he never missed with his penalties,” Poland boss Czeslaw Michniewicz said.
“Other great players have missed penalties. It’s a pity. I know how much he wanted to score at a World Cup.
“I sympathise with him. He was very emotional about it. I hope there will be other opportunities for him. We know he will help us a lot in this tournament.”
Mexico boss Gerardo Martino added: “In the first half we were on the front foot and deserved the advantage.
“We should have won the game, but we needed to be more accurate. We have a ‘final’ ahead of us in the next game against Argentina.”
The unique Stadium 974 — whose structure was partially created from a colourful tapestry of shipping containers — overlooks Doha’s port and the area was transformed into a colourful fiesta as green-clad, sombrero-wearing Mexicans partied ahead of the evening kick-off.
It was an even more vibrant scene inside the stadium, with the estimated 40,000 capacity almost entirely filled with vociferous, flag-waving fans of ‘El Tri’.
As the main threat to their team’s hopes, Lewandowski was immediately subjected to ear-splitting jeers from the Mexico supporters.
Lewandowski tried to silence the din with an early header but his effort deflected harmlessly wide.
With Poland curiously content to sit back for long periods and Mexico’s energy levels almost matching their raucous fans, it was Martino’s side who carried the greater threat.
Alexis Vega looped his header inches past the far post from Hector Herrera’s cross.
Mexico followed that close shave with another incisive move that ended with Jesus Gallardo’s shot being palmed away by Wojciech Szczesny.
Jorge Sanchez’s deflected effort whistled just over Szczesny’s crossbar as Mexico kept up the pressure.
Isolated by Poland’s conservative tactics, Lewandowski mustered just one touch in the Mexico area and completed only three passes in the first half.
Lewandowski couldn’t be contained forever and his tenacity earned the 57th-minute penalty when he barged into the Mexico area, forcing a crude challenge from Hector Moreno that was ruled a spot-kick after VAR intervened.
But Lewandowski’s World Cup woe wasn’t over as the 37-year-old Ochoa plunged to his left to make a fine save, leaving the striker holding his head in despair.
It was Lewandowski’s second successive penalty miss after he failed to score for Barcelona against Almeria earlier this month.
Henry Martin’s glancing header drew a good stop from Szczesny as Mexico tried in vain to make the most of their escape.