Following Poland’s 2-nil victory against Saudi Arabia earlier in the day, the stage was set in Lusail Stadium for a decisive encounter between Argentina and Mexico.
Argentina undeniably bore the chunk of the pressure coming into the game, given their surprise 2-1 defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday. The game was a must-win for Argentina, and they took their chances.
The goalless first half was largely a subdued encounter, with neither side enjoying a truckload of clear-cut scoring opportunities. Argentina saw more of the ball but put themselves at risk by losing possession on multiple occasions.
Mexico failed to capitalise on these chances—their biggest chance coming in the latter minutes from a freekick emphatically saved by Argentina’s Emiliano Martinez—but they maintained composure throughout the half. Before Mexico’s freekick, Argentina had a freekick of theirs from a closer angle, taken by Argentina’s captain and seven-time Ballon D’Or winner, Lionel Messi, but Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa did well to keep Mexico at bay.
Argentina had some corners in the first half, but none of them materialised into a goalscoring threat. Lionel Messi and Lautaro Martinez tried to make the most of a few headers, but the lack of creativity in the Argentine midfield was glaring (Rodrigo De Paul in particular, being suspect on multiple occasions). Lisandro Martinez turned in a decent defensive shift—making a case for his exclusion from the starting line-up against Saudi Arabia—and Angel Di Maria mustered a measure of redemption after his questionable performance against Saudi Arabia. However, the overall result left all to play for in the mote frenetic second half.
To the delight of their fans, Argentina took the game by its horns from the very first kick of the second half and showed more attacking intent. Things were also active on the sidelines, with Argentina’s coach Lionel Scaloni making five substitutions before the 70th minute.
Respite, however, arrived for Argentina fans in the 64th minute when Lionel Messi beat Ochoa with an effort from outside the box. Mexico showed no significant signs of improvement from their first-half performance. Argentina rode the momentum up until the 87th minute when Argentine substitute Enzo Fernández converted a sublime effort assisted by Lionel Messi—the latter going on to win the Man of the Match award.
Argentina may not have turned in an excellent performance, but they did just enough to stay afloat ahead of their encounter with Poland on Wednesday, November 30.
A victory is essential, considering the need to top the group and the uncertainty of Mexico’s clash with Saudi Arabia. The group is an open one, and things can only get more interesting from here.