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Wednesday February 08, 2023

Szczesny stands tall for Poland at World Cup

By AFP
December 04, 2022

DOHA: It hasn´t always been this way for Wojciech Szczesny at major tournaments, but Poland largely have their goalkeeper to thank after reaching the World Cup last 16 for the first time since 1986.

On the eve of Poland´s opening game in Qatar, Szczesny was asked about his misadventures at past finals -- his only previous World Cup and three European Championships were marred by a red card, costly blunders and injury.

"I think each tournament has its own history," replied Szczesny, who has shrugged off those bad memories and become the first ´keeper since 2002 to save two penalties at the same World Cup.

First he kept out Salem Al-Dawsari´s spot-kick in a 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia as part of a breathtaking double save, producing a sensational reflex stop to deny Mohammed Al-Burayk from the rebound.

"It´s good for goalkeepers, because we can´t become heroes by scoring goals. At least sometimes we can help the team by making big saves," said Szczesny.

But he said he wanted to "face the best" after those heroics and he got his chance against Lionel Messi and Argentina in a nerve-jangling final round of group games.

Harshly penalised for catching Messi in the face while challenging for a cross, Szczesny plunged to his left to palm away the seven-time Ballon d´Or winner´s effort from the spot.

It proved crucial as Poland squeezed through the group stage ahead of Mexico on goal difference despite scoring just twice in three matches.

"I was fortunate twice this competition," Szczesny told RAI Sport. "It´s a great moment in the career of a player, the World Cup is the maximum and this is special.

"There´s a bit of work that goes into it, too, but in order to save a Messi penalty, you need some luck as well."

Fully recovered from injuries that hampered him early this season with Juventus, the 1.96m (6ft 5in) Szczesny figures to have another huge job on his hands when Poland play defending champions France on Sunday.

Kylian Mbappe heads a fearsome French attack that should be well rested after coach Didier Deschamps heavily rotated his line-up for the 1-0 loss to Tunisia.

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