Robert Lewandowski scored his first World Cup goal to lead Poland to an impressive 2-0 victory over Saudi Arabia. For the Barcelona striker, it was the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition.
"Today, everything I had inside, the dreams, the importance of the occasion, all those dreams from my childhood came through. It was so significant."
As Robert Lewandowski, eyes filled with tears, laid strewn on the turf for what seemed like an eternity, the 34-year-old showed the rarest moment of emotion.
The prolific Polish striker could not hide the relief after scoring his first World Cup goal, in his fifth match at the tournament, completing a long-held ambition that had eluded him during his illustrious career until Saturday at the Education City Stadium.
Having been kept quiet for large parts of the match by Saudi Arabia, who played with the belief that led them to a shock victory over Argentina in their opening group game, Lewandowski capitalized as he stole the ball from defender Abdulelah Almalki on the edge of the box before calmly slotting past goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais to hand Poland a 2-0 win.
"The older I get, the more emotional I get," Lewandowski said after the match. "I always wanted to score at the World Cup, and this dream came true."
Head coach Czeslaw Michnieicz praised his striker's resilience after he had missed a penalty in Poland's opening match against Mexico.
"I know how deeply he lived the last match," Michnieicz said. "I'm very sorry he wasn't lucky enough today, he hit the post, and the goalkeeper made a save. He could have had a hat trick."
Finding his role in a new system
Lewandowski's 77th international goal saw him draw level with Brazilian star Pele and move up to 10th place in the list of the most successful international goalscorers.
Although prolific for club and country throughout his career, the Barcelona forward's opportunities in front of goal have been limited since Michniewicz was appointed Poland's head coach in January, having been deployed as a lone striker since the start of the year.
Whilst being more accustomed to playing in systems where wingers provided him with plenty of chances to score, Lewandowski lamented the lack of crosses coming his way after the stalemate in Poland's first match.
"Of course, as a forward I wish for more of the ball," he said. "It's very hard for a forward to track so far back. But, if the coach has these tactics, then we have to adjust. There's room for improvement going forward, we have to risk more."
After missing just his ninth spot-kick from the 80 he has taken across his career, the pressure on Lewandowski to perform on the biggest stage for his country cranked up another notch.
But, despite the personal dissatisfaction, the Polish captain's teammates remained steadfast in their belief of their talisman, with defender Jan Bednarek adding: "For him the team is more important. He swallows his pride and really focuses on working as hard as he can for us."
And the Aston Villa centerback was vindicated as Poland scored their first two goals from open play at a World Cup since 2002 to keep alive their hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the competition for the first time 36 years.
After the match, one of the few Polish fans to witness the victory told DW: "We feel great, it was a very difficult game, but we had to win because the next game is against [group favorites] Argentina. Today they had so much energy, they played very well for the 90 minutes."
Carrying the expectations of a country on his shoulders
This year has seen much change for Lewandowski, internationally and domestically, as the former Bayern Munich player joined Barcelona in search of a different challenge as he nears the end of his career, after eight highly successful seasons with the Bavarian club – that saw him win the treble twice.
Despite the disappointment in Europe's flagship competition, he has not disappointed in La Liga, notching 13 goals in 14 matches to lead Barcelona to the top of the Spanish league, as he looks to add another new trophy to his already full cabinet.
With his sights looking towards what life may look like after he has finished playing football, Lewandowski explained that his desire to leave his mark on the international scene led to such an emotional goal celebration.
"I am aware that when it comes to the World Cup, this might be my last World Cup," he said. "And I wanted to underline that I played at world cups and I scored."
He'll have at least one more World Cup game to add to his tally when Poland face Argentina in their final group game on Wednesday.