Lionel Messi was the catalyst for the crucial win against Mexico that got Argentina’s campaign back on track after their opening defeat to Saudi Arabia, and he was instrumental again as they illustrated why they were regarded as one of the tournament favourites, before a second-round match against Australia.
Poland were set to progress on the Fifa Fair Play rule for having fewer yellow cards than Mexico – until Saudi Arabia pulled one back deep into stoppage time in their 2-1 loss to the Concacaf side – and will now face France after surviving an incredibly dramatic finale where another goal for Argentina or Mexico would have knocked them out.
Argentina ran out comfortable winners with second-half goals from Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister and Manchester City striker Julian Alvarez, but the game still held real drama and jeopardy in the closing stages as Poland knew another goal conceded, or another goal for Mexico against the Saudis, would send them out on goal difference.
Argentina dominated throughout but had to wait until after the break to make the breakthrough as Messi saw a first-half penalty saved by Poland keeper Wojciech Szczesny after the pair had collided in an aerial challenge, a harsh award after a video assistant referee consultation.
Mac Allister gave Argentina the lead they deserved when he swept home Nahuel Molina’s cross a minute after the break and Alvarez sealed victory with a fine finish into the top corner in the 67th minute.
The Argentines shook off the shock of that stunning loss to Saudi Arabia to settle their nerves with a Messi-inspired win against Mexico then stepped up to another level to confirm a last-16 game against Australia. Messi’s first-half penalty miss was a minor interruption on their path to victory as they held complete command of territory and possession against a passive Poland, especially given what was at stake.
Argentina keeper Emi Martinez did not have a moment of anxiety and once Mac Allister put them ahead the game was virtually over, Alvarez confirming it with a superb strike past the excellent Szczesny that hinted at his own rich potential.
Messi showed flashes of his mercurial best but this was a complete performance from Argentina who played with greater intensity and fire than they have so far.
They have taken their time to show why they are so highly regarded but produced plenty of evidence here to illustrate just how dangerous they will be in the knockout stage.
Source – BBC