Right from the April 1 draw, the Group C fixture between Poland and Argentina was billed to be an interesting encounter.
It wound up being the first clash between Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Poland’s Robert Lewandowski since Bayern Munich’s infamous 8-2 victory over FC Barcelona in the Quarter Finals of the 2019/2020 UEFA Champions League.
Coming into the game, Poland were yet to concede and needed just a point to be sure of qualification. Argentina, on the other hand, needed a victory to breathe easy. Truly, it was a formidable force squaring up against an immovable object.
As the first half unfolded, Argentina emerged the more fluid and threatening side – a clear improvement on their performance against Mexico on Saturday.
Poland saw far less of the ball, but remained organised. Argentina saw a few chances in the first half-hour, the most notable of which was Angel Di Maria coming close to scoring from a corner.
In the 38th minute, the proceedings took an interesting turn when the palm of Poland’s goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny appeared to make contact with Argentina’s Lionel Messi’s face in an attempt to parry a cross from the left flank away.
A brief VAR check followed, and a debatable penalty was awarded. Lionel Messi stepped up to take it but his penalty kick amazingly saved by Szczęsny – It was Szczęsny’s second save of the tournament.
Argentina piled up the pressure on Poland in an attempt to atone for the penalty miss, but they were unable to do so before the half-tike whistle. Effectively, Szczęsny’s penalty save turned out to be the highlight of the first half.
The second half began with a blast. After Argentina retook the first kick of the half, Argentina’s Alexis Mac Allister rose to the occasion and finally achieved atonement by converting a cross in the 47th minute to score the opener.
Poland almost pulled one back from a free kick barely a minute after the opener, with Argentina’s Marcos Acuña receiving the first booking of the game. Mac Allister nearly earned himself a brace in the 60th minute, but his effort was saved by Szczęsny.
Then Argentina’s second goal arrived in the 67th minute courtesy of a fine finish by Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez.
Messi’s personal attempts at redemption continued in the 70th minute, but Szczęsny stood in the way once again.
By the 72nd minute, it was Julian Alvarez finding the side-netting as Argentina sought to widen the chasm between themselves and Poland.
On the reverse end, Robert Lewandowski was hindered from making any impact due to the non-existence of crosses or passes. Indeed, it was a quiet night for the top-billed star men of Poland and Argentina.
By the 85th minute, Argentine substitute Lautaro Martinez came close to upping the tempo again, narrowly missing the mark.
There were six minutes of added time, and Argentina came close to scoring again in the 92nd minute. There were no further goals, with Argentina closing out the game as group leaders. However, Poland equally made it out alive as the runners-up due to a superior goal difference and disciplinary record over Mexico.
Argentina may have begun their campaign at the bottom of Group C, but they have turned their fortunes around to set up a Round of 16 clash with Australia on Saturday.
Poland will take on defending champions, France.