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.

After just a pair of games each, it has already been an up and down World Cup for two of the best players on the planet.

Poland's Robert Lewandowski was the villain on matchday one as he saw a tame penalty saved in the 0-0 draw with Mexico, before redemption as he claimed his first ever World Cup goal in the 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia.

Lionel Messi scored his penalty in Argentina's first game, though was unable to stop his team from suffering a humiliating 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia, but then his exquisite strike set La Albiceleste on their way to a 2-0 win against Mexico.

These two superstars will surely be front and centre when they clash in their final game of Group C on Wednesday.

Victory for either will confirm their passage to the knockout stage, with a draw also good enough for the Poles.

A defeat would eliminate Argentina, with a draw leaving them sweating on the outcome of Saudi Arabia v Mexico.

History could be on their side, though, with their last meeting at a World Cup coming in 1978, where Argentina won 2-0 before going on to lift the trophy for the first time (Poland won their only other World Cup clash 3-2 in 1974).

 

Lionel Scaloni's men will have their work cut out though, with Poland having kept a clean sheet in each of their last three World Cup games, including both in Qatar so far despite facing 27 shots (nine on target).

Poland are looking to qualify from their World Cup group for the first time since the 1986 tournament under Antoni Piechniczek, and they last went unbeaten in all three matches in their first round group in 1982.

Following his match-winning performance against Mexico, Messi said: "Another World Cup started for us today... We can't give up now; we have finals from this point on and can't make a mistake."

Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz said after Lewandowski's maiden World Cup strike "one player will not win the match alone".

He could be right, but if ever there were a contest to prove whether he is, it might just be this one.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Poland – Robert Lewandowski

Lewandowski (50) was the player with most goals scored among players in the top five European leagues in all competitions last season, ahead of Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema (44).

The Barcelona striker cut a frustrated figure against Mexico, but was key in their win against Saudi Arabia, grabbing a goal and an assist.

Lewandowski is the only Polish player to have attempted more than two shots so far (seven), while no team-mate has created more chances than his three, level with Piotr Zielinski.

Argentina – Lionel Messi

Despite people daring to suggest Messi's powers are waning, he remains his country's talisman.

The 35-year-old has scored in six successive appearances for Argentina in all competitions, his joint-longest scoring run for his national side (also six between November 2011 and September 2012), while he now has as many World Cup goals as Diego Maradona (eight), with only Gabriel Batistuta (10) netting more for Argentina at the tournament overall.

PREDICTION

Despite Poland leading the way in Group C, Opta make Argentina favourites for this one, with Scaloni's side having a 64.8 per cent chance of winning at Stadium 974.

Poland have just a 13.8 per cent chance of victory, but they will also be satisfied with a draw, which has a 21.4 per cent chance of occurring.

Robert Lewandowski broke his World Cup duck on Saturday and explained his emotional celebration was due to the possibility of this being his last finals.

This is only Lewandowski's second World Cup with Poland, but he is now 34 years old and did not score a single goal at Russia 2018.

That barren run continued in the opening match against Mexico, in which the Barcelona forward saw a penalty saved.

But Lewandowski assisted Piotr Zielinski's strike against Saudi Arabia and grabbed the second himself in a vital 2-0 win to move Poland top of Group C.

The former Bayern Munich man was clearly overcome with emotion as he embraced his team-mates.

"The older I get, the more emotional I get," Lewandowski said. "I'm aware when it comes to the World Cup, it might be my last World Cup."

He added: "When you play for the national squad, you have to focus on the results, but some per cent of my identity also wanted me to have good statistics.

"I always wanted to score at the World Cup, and this dream came true."

Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz said of Lewandowski's emotion: "I was not surprised, because I know how deeply he lived the last match. The whole team supported him a lot.

"We are very happy together with him, just as we were very sad together with him after the penalty."

Michniewicz added "one player will not win the match alone", but that was an assessment Herve Renard disagreed with, as the Saudi Arabia coach attributed Poland's victory to Wojciech Szczesny.

A penalty save from Salem Al Dawsari at 1-0 kept Poland in front in a game Saudi Arabia controlled for long periods.

Despite the result, Renard is not giving up hope, saying: "We are still alive, so we'll play until the last second of our World Cup. If that's next time or another time, we won't give up."

Saudi Arabia are second in the pool, a point behind Poland, ahead of Argentina playing Mexico later on Saturday.

"I hope [the Saudi fans] won't give up," Renard said. "When you are fans, you need to support your team when it's a fantastic day. But you also need to support your team to make history in the third game. I would like to see one more time a green stadium."

Robert Lewandowski ended his wait for a first World Cup goal as Poland took a significant step towards reaching the knockout stage for the first time in 36 years by beating Saudi Arabia 2-0 on Saturday.

Talisman Lewandowski's penalty failure against Mexico had denied Poland an opening win, but he and they made amends at Education City Stadium, toppling Argentina's conquerors to blow Group C wide open.

Although Saudi Arabia were largely more impressive than in their smash-and-grab defeat of Argentina, they again fell behind and this time could not recover – the latest episode of spot-kick drama making a hero of Wojciech Szczesny after he denied Salem Al Dawsari.

Either side of that save, Lewandowski assisted the opening goal for Piotr Zielinski and belatedly netted a breakthrough strike to make sure of a win that moves Poland to four points ahead of themselves taking on Lionel Messi and Co.

Matty Cash raced onto an incisive pass six minutes before the break and squared to Lewandowski, whose first touch took him away from goal before he cut the ball back for Zielinski's clinical finish.

The response might have been swift as a VAR review granted Saleh Al Shehri a soft penalty following contact from Krystian Bielik, but Szczesny sensationally repelled Al Dawsari's spot-kick and then – even more spectacularly – Mohammed Al Burayk's follow-up.

Szczesny had to come to Poland's rescue again 10 minutes after the restart, blocking with his legs from Al Dawsari, and Feras Al Brikan and Mohammed Kanno each blazed wildly off target.

Poland squandered chances to put the game to bed as first Arkadiusz Milik and then Lewandowski worked the frame of the goal, but the Barcelona man eventually got his goal after pinching possession from Abdulelah Al Malki and finishing calmly.

What does it mean? Poland take pole position

Even in victory, Czeslaw Michniewicz's men were not especially impressive, although Lewandowski would have felt the weight of the world lift off his shoulders with a first goal in his fifth finals match.

Vitally, Poland also have a star performer at the other end of the pitch. Their strong position in this group is chiefly down to their back-to-back clean sheets, now having kept three in a row stretching back to 2018 – matching their best such sequence.

Poland penalty heroics

Poland have now faced five penalties at World Cups, yet three of them have been saved. Szczesny's stop sees him join Jan Tomaszewski, who kept out two at the 1970 tournament.

The save from Al Burayk on the rebound was truly remarkable, while Szczesny had also early made a sharp stop from Kanno and would later frustrate Al Dawsari again.

Tempers boil over

Played in front of a raucous – primarily Saudi – crowd, a kind observer might call this encounter "competitive". Players from both sides thundered into challenges, occasionally with both arms and legs.

In the opening 30 minutes, the sides shared more yellow cards (four) than shots (three). By half-time, there had been five bookings – the most cards at that stage of a World Cup game since the famously feisty 2010 final.

It seemed inevitable there would be a red card eventually, but it never came.

What's next?

Poland must still play their toughest fixture on paper, taking on an Argentina side who will need to win. Saudi Arabia remain in contention ahead of facing Mexico at the same time on Wednesday.

Robert Lewandowski remains Poland's "number one" penalty taker despite missing his spot-kick against Mexico, head coach Czeslaw Michniewicz has confirmed.

Having drawn a blank in Russia four years ago, the Barcelona forward is still awaiting his first World Cup goal after Guillermo Ochoa denied him from 12 yards in the Eagles' Group C opener on Tuesday.

But Michniewicz confirmed Lewandowski remains Poland's first choice should they be awarded another penalty in their second group game against Saudi Arabia.

"When it comes to the penalties, Robert is still number one," the head coach said. "As a striker, of course, he will make a decision whether he will shoot or pass it on to someone else. He feels ready to score for Poland."

Jan Bednarek believes while Lewandowski will be desperate to break his finals duck, the captain's main focus is on the team's performance in Qatar.

"Robert Lewandowski is our captain, he's a striker, he wants to score as many goals as he can," the on-loan Aston Villa defender said. "But for him, the good of the team is most important. He wants us to win.

"He hides his pride in his pocket, and he really focuses on working as hard as he can. It's not important to him if he scores or not, he wants us to win the match.

"He's got his individual objective, but I am convinced he places the team's success at the top. This is the best striker in the world. I hope he leads us to win. I don't know if he will score or not, but the most important thing is for us to win."

The Poland squad will support an "emotional" Robert Lewandowski following his penalty miss in Tuesday's goalless World Cup clash against Mexico.

Lewandowski saw his chance of a first World Cup goal dashed when his 58th-minute penalty was repelled by Guillermo Ochoa - one of the few moments of note in an otherwise drab affair at Stadium 974.

The Barcelona striker carries the weight of Poland’s hopes on his shoulders and coach Czeslaw Michniewicz admitted he was upset in the dressing room afterwards.

Michniewicz said: "I sympathise with him. I know how a captain who misses a penalty feels.

"He was very emotional about it – we have a monitor in the dressing room and Robert watched the replays. He has to process it himself, he knows how to deal with these situations. As a squad we will help him and we know he will help us in the future.

"Great players miss penalties – Socrates, Zico, [Michel] Platini, [Diego] Maradona among others, it's football. It's a pity as I know how much he wanted to score a goal at the World Cup. I hope the following opportunities will be translated into goals."

Overall, Michniewicz was satisfied with a point with the dynamic of Group C altered following Saudi Arabia's stunning defeat of Argentina earlier in the day.

He added: "It was a very difficult game with tricky opponents. The result did not reduce the chance of qualifying for either us or Mexico. It's easier if you win your first match but it was important not to lose.

"I remember we lost our first game in Russia [at the 2018 World Cup] and it was very difficult afterwards. Everything is still in our hands."

Asked if the Argentina result would alter his approach to Saturday's now-crucial clash with Lionel Scaloni's men, Mexico boss Tata Martino replied: "In theory, I would say not.

"We must play our football and this result doesn't change our mentality.

"We need to play an intelligent game, and also understand who we are facing. We need to remember we are playing against one of the main candidates to win the World Cup.

"I also don't think they will change. Even if they had won today, they would want to win their second game. Argentina will play to win as they always do."

Robert Lewandowski missed a penalty on another night of World Cup frustration as his Poland side had to settle for a goalless draw in their Group C opener against Mexico.

The Barcelona striker was generously awarded the chance to net his first World Cup goal - referee Chris Beath awarding the spot-kick following a VAR check - but was denied by Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.

Poland offered little else in a bitty encounter with Mexico, roared on by a boisterous support at Stadium 974, far more fluid going forward, particularly down the flanks.

Mexico offered the greater threat in the first half with Hirving Lozano predictably proving their main attacking outlet.

The Napoli winger created the first chance of note after five minutes, his curling cross from the right eluding Wojciech Szczesny but Alexis Vega was unable to turn the ball home at the far post.

In a rare Poland foray shortly afterwards, Lewandowski set Jakub Kaminski free but Mexico defender Jesus Gallardo did superbly to get back and smuggle the ball to safety.

Vega came close again after 26 minutes with a header that drifted inches wide while, on the stroke of half-time, Szczesny bundled Jorge Sanchez’s cross-shot over the bar.

The second half started in a similar vein with Mexico dominating possession but their over-confidence almost cost them. Edson Alvarez dallied on the ball and it ricocheted into the area where Hector Moreno and Lewandowski wrestled before falling to the turf.

Beach initially waved play on but then pointed to the spot after consulting the monitor with replays showing Moreno had a hold of Lewandowski's shirt.

Ochoa, so often Mexico's hero at a World Cup, came up trumps again, however, diving to his left to palm Lewandowski's spot-kick to safety.

The let-off failed to inspire Mexico who huffed and puffed without really testing Szczesny, bar a routine save to deny a flicked header from Henry Martin.


What does it mean?

Remarkably, day one of Group C action ends with Saudi Arabia on top of the pool following their stunning 2-1 defeat of Argentina.

That result and this stalemate heaps the pressure on Poland and Mexico as they look to advance to the knockout stages.

Mexico boss Tata Martino will be frustrated by the result if not the performance which arguably deserved more.

More World Cup frustration for Lewandowski

Even discounting his penalty miss, Lewandowski had a night to forget. The spot-kick was his first meaningful touch in Poland's penalty area and he suffered from a lack of service from a hard-working but sterile midfield. 

The one moment of quality from the Barcelona man came early on with a nice turn and pass to release Kaminski but his team-mate was unable to convert.

Ochoa still a genius

Described as a "genius" by Szczesny at the pre-match press conference, Ochoa again displayed his ability to shine on the biggest stage.

His main moment came with the penalty save but, that aside, he showed all his experience by dealing comfortably with Poland's limited attack.

What's Next?

Both teams are back in action on Saturday. Mexico take on Argentina, smarting from their stunning defeat to Saudi Arabia, while Poland meet Herve Renard's buoyant side.

Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is hoping he can help star striker Robert Lewandowski achieve his ambitions on the international stage.

Lewandowski will spearhead the Polish challenge at the World Cup in Qatar, starting with Tuesday's Group C encounter with Mexico.

The Barcelona striker has enjoyed a glittering club career, most notably at Bayern Munich with whom he won the Champions League in 2020, but has found success harder to come by with the national team. Lewandowski is Poland's record goalscorer with 76 in 134 appearances – including nine in their qualifying campaign – but has never scored at a World Cup.

Juventus goalkeeper Szczesny said: "I think it's important for him, he is very motivated.

"No-one doubts that Robert is one of the best players in the world and he would definitely like to see his ambitions come true – not only at his club but also with the national team. We all have the same ambition, not just him."

Szczesny, 32, and Lewandowski, 34, are most likely playing their final World Cup and the former Arsenal man is hoping to enjoy his "last dance".

He added: "I do hope we catch a good rhythm and the music will lead us on. This is definitely my last World Cup, and for some of the other players probably, so it would be great to have something to remember as a success."

He is expecting a tight opener against Tata Martino's men, however.

"They are at a similar level to us and also have some wonderful players," he said.

"We are well prepped, we have analysed them well, but we will need to bring the theory to the pitch. We could win or also lose so it will be an interesting game."

Mexico endured an unconvincing qualifying phase and their form has not improved in recent months with just four wins from their last 11 games.

Expectations are low back home, but Martino insisted that was in contrast to strong belief within the squad.

The former Barcelona coach said: "We always try – regardless of what happens – to be aligned with our whole country.

"We reached the World Cup and we will try to be strong, from what we can control of course. This national team is very strong internally. I don’t know if what happens outside makes us stronger, but what happens internally certainly does."

Robert Lewandowski is dreaming of scoring at a World Cup for the first time in a stark warning to Poland's opening Group C opponents Mexico.

The prolific striker played a huge part in Poland's qualifying campaign with nine goals and four assists, with those 13 direct-goal involvements twice as many as any team-mate.

However, he failed to find the net in 270 minutes of play in his only previous World Cup appearance in Russia four years ago, with Poland finishing bottom of their group.

But after scoring 211 goals at club level since that tournament – 42 more than next-best Kylian Mbappe – the Barcelona star is eager to put that right in Qatar.

"I think about the last World Cup for sure," he said. "To score at a World Cup would be a huge dream and I'm going to do everything for this dream. 

"I hope in this World Cup it will happen. I am glad for everything I have achieved and these memories for the World Cup, so now is the time to enjoy."

Poland's early exit in Russia was nothing new. They have qualified for three of the past five editions but have failed to make it past the group stage since 1986.

 

That is in stark contrast to first opponents Mexico, who have progressed from their first-round group in each of their past eight finals appearances, last failing to do so in 1978.

Mexico have won their opening match in five of their past six World Cups, though their run of advancing is under threat in a group that also includes Argentina and Saudi Arabia.

Head coach Gerardo Martino is under pressure due to some underwhelming results and performances this year, so much so he has labelled himself "public enemy number one".

"I see people happy a colleague loses or does poorly at work," he added in a fiery news conference in September. "I notice an environment that feels comfortable with this.

"The great concern is what impact this has on the group of players. Every time they have to go out to defend the coach, and in itself it is difficult to be a player."

Mexico's warm-up friendlies culminated in a 2-1 loss to Sweden, with that their third loss in five matches, while Poland have won back-to-back matches without conceding.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Mexico - Hirving Lozano

No team kept more clean sheets during the third round of CONCACAF qualifying than Mexico (eight), but putting the ball in the net has proved to be more of a problem.

With Raul Jimenez struggling for fitness, having played just three Premier League games for Wolves all season, there is even more onus on Lozano up top.

The Napoli forward is enjoying a good season at club level and already has proven World Cup pedigree, having made a name for himself with his strike against Germany in 2018. 

Poland - Robert Lewandowski

It required more than just Lewandowski's goals alone for Poland to qualify, but there is no denying they need their star performer to be on top form if they are to make an impact.

Lewandowski has made a good start at new club Barcelona, with his 18 goals bettered only by Erling Haaland (23) and Kylian Mbappe (19) across Europe's top five leagues.

Worryingly for Poland, though, their most recent open-play goal at the World Cup came 20 years ago, with each of the past five coming via set-pieces.

PREDICTION

This match at Stadium 974 could go a long way to determining which side joins many people's favourites Argentina in the last 16.

Mexico are ranked 13 places higher than Mexico in the latest FIFA rankings, though our supercomputer prediction model can barely separate the sides.

Poland have a 35 per cent chance of winning, compared to 35.1 per cent for Mexico, with the draw predicted at a 29.2 per cent likelihood.

Robert Lewandowski dreams of scoring his first World Cup goal as Poland look to atone for previous failings in FIFA's top tournament.

Lewandowski remains one of world football's elite marksmen after scoring 18 goals in all competitions this season – only Erling Haaland (23) and Kylian Mbappe (19) have more in Europe's top five leagues.

The Barcelona forward is also Poland's all-time top scorer with 76 strikes in 134 appearances, though he is yet to find the net at a World Cup.

Poland failed to qualify in 2010 and 2014 before scoring just two goals at Russia 2018 amid a group-stage exit – and Lewandowski is out to right the wrongs of previous disappointment.

"I think about the last World Cup for sure," the 34-year-old told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"To score at a World Cup would be a huge dream and I'm going to do everything for this dream. I hope in this World Cup it will happen."

The striker contributed to 13 goals in Poland's World Cup qualification campaign (nine goals, four assists) – more than twice as many as any of his international team-mates.

Poland will hope to cast aside their poor record in Monday's opener against Mexico, having only started one of their eight previous World Cup campaigns with a win (D3 L4), beating Argentina 3-2 in 1974.

A meeting between two familiar foes will follow in Group C on November 30 as Lewandowski faces Blaugrana legend Lionel Messi with Argentina.

"I will be happy to have this opportunity to play against Argentina and Messi – he changed football forever," the former Bayern Munich forward added.

"I am glad for everything I have achieved and these memories for the World Cup, so now is the time to enjoy."

Robert Lewandowski harbours no ill will towards Poland's World Cup adversary Lionel Messi following the duo's battle to land the 2021 Ballon d'Or.

Messi saw off fierce competition from Lewandowski to capture his seventh Ballon d'Or last year, despite the Poland striker scoring 58 goals to Messi's 34 in club action in 2021.

In the aftermath of that triumph, Messi called for Lewandowski to be handed the 2020 Ballon d'Or, with the prize not being awarded after the COVID-19 pandemic impacted football that year.

With Poland set to face Argentina in their third group-stage match at the World Cup later this month, Lewandowski says he does not resent Messi for claiming the prize.

Asked whether he would shake hands with Messi to clear the air ahead of the teams' meeting, Lewandowski said: "I don't exactly understand the question.

"Why not? Why would I need to shake hands? Between me and Messi, everything is fine. I have nothing [bad] with him, I never had.

"Leo Messi is in great shape. At Barcelona, you can see everywhere he's a legend."

Poland will begin their Group C campaign against Mexico on Tuesday, with Lewandowski looking to score his first World Cup goal after failing to find the net at the 2018 tournament in Russia.

The Barcelona striker contributed to 13 goals in Poland's World Cup qualification campaign (nine goals, four assists) – more than twice as many as any of his international team-mates.

Czeslaw Michniewicz's side will hope to cast aside their poor record in World Cup openers against Mexico, having only started one of their eight previous campaigns at the tournament with a win (D3 L4), beating Argentina 3-2 in 1974.

Barcelona plan to lodge an appeal after the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) issued Robert Lewandowski with a three-match ban following his red card against Osasuna.

Lewandowski was shown two yellow cards in the first half of Barca's 2-1 win at El Sadar last Tuesday, in which goals from Pedri and Raphinha helped Xavi's men to a comeback victory.

On Wednesday, it was reported the RFEF had given Lewandowski an extended three-match suspension after accusing him of berating referee Gil Manzano following his dismissal.

That would rule Lewandowski, who is LaLiga's top scorer with 13 goals this campaign, out of the Blaugrana's fixtures against Espanyol, Atletico Madrid and Real Betis after the World Cup, but his club will attempt to overturn the ruling.

A club statement read: "FC Barcelona will put their case to the Appeals Committee in view of the three-game ban handed out to Robert Lewandowski by the Disciplinary Committee. 

"The Polish striker received the suspension after being sent off for a second bookable offence in the 2-1 win over Osasuna in Pamplona in LaLiga."

Lewandowski is currently preparing to represent Poland at his second World Cup, with Czeslaw Michniewicz's team set to begin their Group C campaign against Mexico on Tuesday.

Robert Lewandowski expected Barcelona "would not win everything" in his first season as he called for patience with the rebuild at Camp Nou.

Xavi's side head into the World Cup break two points clear of Real Madrid at the LaLiga summit but crashed out of the Champions League in the group stages for the second season in a row.

Having brought in the likes of Lewandowski, Raphinha and Jules Kounde alongside a host of high-profile free transfers, their European failures have placed some scrutiny on Blaugrana coach Xavi.

But Lewandowski suggested it was always going to take time for Barca to regain their Spanish and European dominance, owing to the transformative period the Blaugrana are going through.

"I knew that in my first season at Barcelona, we were not going to win everything," he told Marca. "This team is still being rebuilt, and it needs time, this is part of the process.

"We should be playing the next round of the Champions League, but we have learnt a lot, especially because we have a lot of young players.

"We made a few mistakes and at this level, you must always be ready. It doesn't matter how you do it, you need to learn how to win."

Despite falling out of the Champions League, Lewandowski says the marked improvements with Xavi's side are already noticeable.

"I think that even in a few months, you can see the progress we've made at Barcelona," he continued. "At the beginning of next year, we can show our better performances, and we can grow up as a team.

"Even next season will be much better, and we'll have more stability. In football, you can win a lot in a short amount of time. We've had a lot of injuries and as a result we lost a lot of stability. 

"In that sense, we haven't had much luck. In just a few weeks we lost a lot of players. Then, when you consider we also had to play a new system with a new set of players, it made things even more difficult.

"But now we've learnt from this and now we can move forward."

The 33-year-old scored 50 goals across all competitions last season, the most across Europe's top five leagues, as Bayern Munich lifted their 10th Bundesliga title in a row.

Lewandowski also broke Gerd Muller's long-standing Bundesliga record by scoring 41 goals in a single season in the 2020-21 campaign, while his 43 league goals in 2021 serve as the record for a calendar year in Germany's top tier.

Having accumulated 344 goals and 57 assists across 375 appearances in all competitions for Bayern, Lewandowski says he left Julian Nagelsmann's side as he needed a new challenge.

"It was a very tough decision but I knew it was the right moment for me to leave. At Bayern, I had everything under control and I was in my comfort zone," he added. 

"But, in my head, I knew it was my team to leave, I wanted to play a long career and continue to be happy.

"When I started to talk to Barca, I knew for my personal and footballing life, the best decision was to move to Barcelona to play in LaLiga. It was always my dream to play in La Liga.

"Also, I didn't want to play my entire life just in one league and that was another reason, even after I won everything at Bayern.

"I will always be proud and grateful for that, but my head was clear, and I wanted to move on to Barcelona. I have a new happiness now."

Robert Lewandowski says "it would be a dream to play" with Lionel Messi amid speculation the Argentina star could return to Barcelona.

The Poland striker will face Messi at the World Cup in Qatar in Group C, though rumours persist the pair could play on the same team as the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner eyes a return to Camp Nou.

Blaugrana president Joan Laporta reiterated the Paris Saint-Germain forward "always has his home" at Barca, who were unable to keep Messi in August 2021 due to well-documented financial struggles.

While Lewandowski claimed to have no knowledge surrounding the speculation, the former Bayern Munich striker would love to combine with Messi if the opportunity arises.

"Messi is absolutely brilliant with the amazing passes he plays to the striker," he told Marca. "If you think about Messi, he has this brilliant connection with strikers.

"He knows how to put the ball into the box, between the lines... he's the best in the world at that. I don't know what's going on right now, but for a striker it would be a dream to play with Lionel Messi for sure."

The mouth-watering prospect of two of world football's most exciting attackers aside, Lewandowski will consider Messi a rival as the 35-year-old leads one of the pre-World Cup favourites in the Middle East.

"I think Argentina with Messi are one of the favourites to win the World Cup," Lewandowski added. "They haven't lost in 30 games; they play well and you can see they are a really good team.

"If you look at football for the past 10, 15 years, the main two figures have been Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and, in the end, if you think about who deserves to win this World Cup, these two names always pop up.

"They are legends. But on the flip side, this is football and you can never say what is going to happen because it's a dramatic and unpredictable game.

"But in Messi's case, it's impossible for his achievements to be replicated as his amazing story continues. Now he's dreaming to win the World Cup.

"For him, that's the big challenge. He wants to now win the World Cup with Argentina, but this is a World Cup and you can never know what is going to happen."

As for Poland's chances in football's biggest tournament, Lewandowski acknowledged his side must be at their best to escape Group C, which also contains Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

"It's a huge challenge and it's a very tough group, each game will be difficult," he continued. "In the World Cup, it's important to know how you're going to play.

"For everyone playing in Qatar at this part if the season, it's a huge challenge.

"We have to be ready for this, we have to fight from the first minute and it doesn't matter how hard it's going to be, you have to show your best."

Robert Lewandowski headlines Poland's squad for Qatar 2022, but there is no room for Karol Linetty nor Mateusz Klich among Czeslaw Michniewicz's 26-man squad.

Barcelona attacker Lewandowski will head to his fifth major tournament and second appearance at the World Cup, where he will skipper his country.

He is joined by fellow veterans Grzegorz Krychowiak and Kamil Glik, the latter of whom will hope to join him in the 100-cap club for Poland during the tournament having already amassed 98.

But Torino midfielder Linetty is a casualty of the fierce competition for places, with the 42-cap man missing the cut altogether.

He is joined by a pair of Premier League absentees in Leeds United's Klich and Brighton and Hove Albion's Jakub Moder, with the latter missing out through injury.

Maciej Rybus meanwhile remains in exile following his move to Spartak Moscow in June, having been blacklisted from the international team over his switch to the Russian club following the country's invasion of Ukraine.

There are no uncapped players among the squad, though both Clermont defender Mateusz Wieteska and Lech Poznan midfielder Michal Skoras will hope to add to their solitary international appearances.

Poland will kick off their campaign in Group C against Mexico on November 22, before they face Saudi Arabia and Argentina.

Poland squad:

Wojciech Szczesny (Juventus), Bartlomiej Dragowski (Spezia), Lukasz Skorupski (Bologna); Jan Bednarek (Aston Villa), Kamil Glik (Benevento), Robert Gumny (Augsburg), Artur Jedrzejczyk (Legia Warsaw), Jakub Kiwior (Spezia), Mateusz Wieteska (Clermont), Bartosz Bereszynski (Sampdoria), Matty Cash (Aston Villa), Nicola Zalewski (Roma); Krystian Bielik (Birmingham City), Przemyslaw Frankowski (Lens), Kamil Grosicki (Pogon Szczecin), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Al-Shabab), Jakub Kaminski (Wolfsburg), Michal Skoras (Lech Poznan), Damian Szymanski (AEK Athens), Sebastian Szymanski (Feyenoord), Piotr Zielinski (Napoli), Szymon Zurkowski (Fiorentina); Robert Lewandowski (Barcelona), Arkadiusz Milik (Juventus), Krzysztof Piatek (Salernitana), Karol Swiderski (Charlotte FC).

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