Szczesny seizes opportunity to ‘show off’ penalty stopping skills to deny Messi

DOHA, Dec 1 (Reuters) – After saving a penalty against Saudi Arabia, Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny said he wanted to “face the best” at the World Cup, and true to his word, he was once again at the center of attention when he denied none. in addition to the Argentine Lionel Messi from the point.

The Juventus goalkeeper has built a reputation as one of Europe’s toughest goalkeepers to beat from 12 meters and proved once again how crucial he is to Poland’s hopes after qualifying for the round of 16.

Poland may have finally lost 2-0 to qualify second in Group C, but not before Szczesny proved he wasn’t one to be deterred on the big stage by a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner and a blue-white sea of ​​Argentinian fans behind him.

In doing so, Szczesny became the first goalkeeper to save two penalties in a World Cup tournament since American Brad Friedel in 2002 and only the third overall, along with compatriot Jan Tomaszewski, who accomplished the feat for the first time. in 1974.

The penalty awarded to Messi was questionable, with Szczesny’s outstretched hand brushing the Paris St Germain striker’s face after he had headed a deflected cross, but it was ruled a foul by the referee after a VAR check.

“I immediately told the referee that I touched his face with my hand, but it only went through one side of the face. I told him that the contact was there, but in my opinion there was no penalty,” Szczesny told TVP Sport.

“The referee decided otherwise and that’s good, I was able to boast.

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“In some penalties Leo looks at the goalkeeper and in some he hits hard. I knew that if he was going to hit hard he was more to my left. I saw that it didn’t stop, so I went (to the left), I sensed it and saved. I’m happy”.

Since making his senior club debut in 2009, the 32-year-old has saved 26 career penalties, barring penalty kicks, for Brentford, Arsenal, AS Roma, Juventus and the Poland national team.

LONG RANGE

Standing at 6’5″, his imposing frame and long reach, coupled with his ability to dash anywhere quickly after swinging down the line, have made even the most experienced penalty takers hesitate at the last moment.

Szczesny has also denied several players when they try to score on the rebound, quickly jumping their way.

These double saves, like the one where he denied Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari from the spot before deflecting Mohammed Al-Breik’s effort off the rebound, are popular fodder for highlight reels.

He stopped three straight penalties for Juve last season between October and March, twice against his former team Roma, effectively sealing the points as Juve won both games by a one-goal margin.

If Poland can hold off France’s exceptional attacking in the round of 16, there is no better player they can count on in penalty shootouts against the defending champions.

But for now, he will celebrate Poland’s progress to the round of 16 for the first time in 36 years.

“My whole family is sitting in Warsaw watching all together: my mother, my wife, my son,” he said, adding to the camera: “I love you Liam. Daddy’s not coming home!”

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Reporting by Rohith Nair in Doha; Edited by Hugh Lawson

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