A decade and a half after making his debut on the senior national team and five World Cup games later, Robert Lewandowski has finally etched his name into the scorecard on the sport's biggest stage. The 34-year-old striker's emotions perfectly captured the significance of that moment -- shock, relief and most importantly, pure joy.
In some ways, it felt fated from the opening kickoff.
The Polish captain is one of the most decorated footballers of all time, owning a Champions League title, seven Bundesliga scoring titles and winning FIFA and UEFA Men's Player of the Year awards. Despite the full trophy case, there was a glaring absence -- a goal at the World Cup.
He can finally cross that off the list after leading Poland to a 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia.
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Saudi Arabia got off to an early start, looking to secure its second win of the tournament and guarantee its place as one of two team representing Group C in the knockout stage. Despite several close calls, Polish goalkeeper Wojchiech Szczesny stood tall, buying his team time to attack.
Along came Lewandowski in the 38th minute.
A series of passes starting with Szczesny made their way downfield, eventually landing in front of the goal with Lewandowski running on. He wasn't able to push the ball past Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais, but he salvaged the play enough to find teammate Piotr Zielinski -- who gave Poland the 1-0 lead -- and picked up his first World Cup assist in the process.
That's one thing off the stat sheet.
The Zielinski goal energized the Polish offense, while Szczesny and the defensive unit fended off the Saudi Arabian forwards, even blocking a penalty kick at the end of the first half.
The momentum rolled into the second half as both team exchanged looks at the goal. Ultimately, though, Lewandowski's watershed moment came at the feet of a botched play by the Saudi backline.
A pass back to defender Abdulelah Al-Malki was bobbled, allowing the nearby Lewandowski to capitalize. He stripped the ball from Al-Malki and slotted the ball just past Al-Owais. Goal -- check.
Lewandowski immediately ran to the corner, where he was greeted by a dog-pile of teammates. As they all unwound from the celebration, the striker was left emotional over the long-awaited moment.
This was Lewandowski's fifth World Cup appearance, having debuted in 2018 after Poland missed the tournament in back-to-back years. He now has 77 goals for Poland, tied with Pele for the 10th-most international goals of any player and extending his lead as Poland's leading goalscorer to 32.
Perhaps more importantly, he's kept Poland's World Cup hopes alive in an already chaotic group. With Saudi Arabia's upset of Argentina earlier this week, Lionel Messi now takes on Mexico to try to extend Argentina's run. While the rest of the group continues to duke it out, Poland has officially inserted themselves as a contender to emerge from the pack.