When the damn curse was finally defeated, all the joy erupted in the players' wives' block directly behind the substitutes' bench. Poland had to wait 36 years to finally reach a round of 16 at a soccer World Cup. And now, after a truly shaky group final, there was only: loud cheers and a few tears.
While the family was celebrating, one of the heroes of the evening was on the pitch: Robert Lewandowski. He remained fairly inconspicuous during the game, but then hugged every teammate - and also the biggest adversary on the field: Lionel Messi. Because a 0:2 against Messi's Argentines was enough to survive the group stage. It was still a long way off that the next opponent would be at least as big as the South Americans: France, defending champions and top favorites again this year.
Lewandowski also spent the days between the two big games with his family. In Doha he looked relaxed with his two daughters in his arms ("my little supporters"), before devoting himself to the essentials again. “They are world champions and want to win another title. We know which players they have. This is a big challenge for us. We have to enjoy it and try our best," he said before the supposedly unequal showdown with the Équipe Tricolore on Sunday at the Al Thumama Stadium.
The enjoyment was then in the round of sixteen on Sunday evening of a rather limited nature. Rather, Lewandowski experienced the next knockout after the sobering performances with his club FC Barcelona in the Champions League. on the international stage. And that in a game in which there could have been much more for him and his colleagues than the 1:3 defeat.
From the start Poland tried again and again to set accents in attack against Les Bleus. And that was getting better and better after a quarter of an hour of play. In the first scene, France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and defender Dayot Upamecano misjudged a pass, allowing Przemyslaw Frankowski to intervene, but was ultimately separated from the ball (19'). Two minutes later, Lewandowski captured the ball, moved to the goal and then smashed it with his left hand from around 22 meters – just wide. He then put a free kick into the opponent's wall.
And then there was even the best chance for the lead in the first half ever. After a cross from Bartosz Bereszynski, however, Piotr Zielinski shot far too centrally from ten yards out, allowing Lloris to parry with his knee, the rebound landed on Jakub Kaminski, whose attempt was cleared by Raphael Varane before the line. A mixture of inability and bad luck. But at least more opportunities for Poland than in the entire game against Argentina.
Olivier Giroud showed mercilessly what effective exploitation of chances looked like that evening. He used a pass from Kylian Mbappé with the first contact in the lower right corner (44th). In this scene, Lewandowski complained that his colleagues' four-man defense should have moved out a bit, then France's striker would have been offside. But that's how it went into the break with a narrow deficit.
Possibly the Poles themselves were surprised that they could keep up so well in the first 45 minutes. In any case, after the change, they stood a little higher from the start in order to build up the pressure on the defending champion early on. But they didn't get any real opportunities worth mentioning at first - and then had to accept the preliminary decision: Mbappé hit the top left corner in the top left corner (74th) on submission by former Dortmund player Ousmane Dembelé (74th) and in injury time it was again the star of Paris St. Germain, who scored his fifth World Cup goal, this time in the right corner of the goal. A spectacular evening for Mbappé.
After that there was even another good opportunity for Lewandowski, but he didn't hit the ball properly and missed it clearly. And then it was to come: the captain's big performance – his former Munich colleague Upamecano made it possible for him with an involuntary handball in his own penalty area. Penalty, matter for the boss. As always, Lewandowski started with a delay and then shot what was probably the worst penalty of his entire career: Lloris was able to hold the attempt without much effort. However, the keeper was well away from the goal line, giving Lewandowski a second chance. This time he scored extremely confidently on the bottom left, it was only the second World Cup goal for the striker (90.9). And although everything had long since been decided, he was happy on the field.
Shortly after that it was over: 1:3. Lewandowski high-fived his colleagues, ran to two Polish fan blocks to say goodbye and then disappeared. After Gareth Bale, Kevin De Bruyne and - yes, you can also say that - Manuel Neuer, the exceptional 34-year-old striker was now the next world star to leave the World Cup. In view of the historically accomplished deed and the best result for Poland since 1982 (then third), the two-time world footballer could also appreciate the early departure.