'Messi didn't score, did he?' – Michniewicz defends Lewandowski as Poland survive tense Group C finale

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Czeslaw Michniewicz defended Robert Lewandowski's display after Poland inched into the World Cup's last 16 despite losing to Argentina in Wednesday's dramatic Group C finale.

Goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez ensured Argentina recovered from Lionel Messi's first-half penalty miss to top Group C, leaving Poland glancing nervously at Mexico's fixture against Saudi Arabia.

Poland were set to beat Mexico to second place due to their disciplinary record for much of the second half, but Saudi Arabia's late consolation in a 2-1 defeat ensured El Tri exited the tournament on goal difference.

Despite Poland advancing from their World Cup group for the first time since 1986, Lewandowski was criticised after failing to record a single shot in the match, but Michniewicz believes he was hamstrung by a lack of service.

"He was very much involved and committed, I'm not attacking anyone from our team, but we didn't help him," Michniewicz said.

"If our team would have had the higher percentage of possession, if Messi played with us and Robert with them, I'm convinced Robert scores five.

"Robert needs conditions, he needs to be assisted, and he was acting in our half. There were so many players covering him.

"He's a great player and there were several one on ones. Messi didn't score, did he? That's all.

"I think we're expecting Robert to score. He wanted to but we didn't have the opportunity for that."

Before Salem Al Dawsari reduced the arrears for Saudi Arabia, Poland held a narrow disciplinary advantage over Mexico – picking up five yellow cards across their group games to El Tri's seven.

Asked whether he told his team to concentrate on avoiding bookings late on, Michniewicz added: "I said to avoid stupid cards.

"We were also discussing it on the bench, we were afraid one of the players would get a card and then we wouldn't go through.

"Cards from the bench weren't going to count, we were told, but we were doing everything possible to avoid provocation."

While Poland failed to record a shot on target during a meek performance, Michniewicz was visibly irked by criticism of his side, choosing to relish their qualification after failed group-stage campaigns in 2002, 2006 and 2018.

"We got promoted after so many years, we played this difficult group. Let's enjoy. We still have until Sunday to criticise," he said. "Were you watching the match? What can I say? We've lost, it wasn't nice football, but it's bittersweet."

Eager to call time on his media duties, Michniewicz added: "It's really late, the prime minister is calling and I can't answer!"

Poland will now face world champions France for a quarter-final spot at the Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday, while Argentina will take on Australia on Saturday.