Poland coach asked team to 'avoid silly bookings' in case World Cup fate was decided on fair play

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group C - Poland v Argentina - Stadium 974, Doha, Qatar - November 30, 2022 Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

DOHA, Nov 30 (Reuters) - Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz had instructed his players to avoid unnecessary bookings in their final World Cup Group C clash against Argentina on Wednesday, where fair play points could have decided their fate in the tournament.

Lionel Messi's Argentina beat toothless Poland 2-0 to top the group on six points while Michniewicz's team finished second on four and qualified on goal difference despite the loss, after Mexico beat Saudi Arabia 2-1.

"I didn't tell players to take their foot off the ball, but I did tell them to avoid silly bookings," Michniewicz told a news conference.

"We even talked about the yellow cards for those on the bench, because it was only before the match, after the meeting with the delegate, when we learned that cards awarded to players on the bench do not count for the fair play classification.

"We were afraid that one of the players would jump out, or the coach, and would get booked and therefore we might not advance further. But I also asked that we do not provoke, not pull their shirts, not argue with the referee."

It was goal difference that eventually decided the final order of Group C, with Mexico finishing on minus one while Poland's tally stood at zero.

But had Saudi Arabia not scored in the other game, Poland would have sealed their first knockout round in 36 years on fair play points.

The only time fair play record was needed to separate teams at a World Cup came in 2018, when Japan and Senegal were level in second on four points, with a goal difference of zero and four goals scored each, and fair play points sent Japan through.

Both Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski have prolonged their presence in what is likely to be their last World Cup, but the latter had little to say as under-attack Poland was saved from conceding more goals by keeper Wojciech Szczesny.

"Robert was committed but we didn't help him tonight," Michniewicz said. "We didn't give him a chance to score.

"If the Polish national team had such a percentage of ball possession as Argentina, the number of exchanged passes and situations around the box -- and if Robert played today in place of Messi for Argentina, and Messi for us -- then Messi would not score a goal and Robert would have scored five."

Poland next face a tough test on Sunday, when they will play the reigning world champions France.

Reporting by Anita Kobylinska in Doha, editing by Pritha Sarkar

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.