Lionel Messi helps keep Argentina’s World Cup hopes alive with moment of magic against Mexico



CNN

Yet another moment of Lionel Messi magic helped save argentina world Cup hope to Qatar 2022 as The Albiceleste got a much-needed win over Mexico.

The 2-0 win certainly wasn’t pretty, with Argentina struggling to create plenty of clean chances against a stubborn Mexican side who themselves also offered very little threat going forward.

Messi came to the fore just after the hour mark to save his team, as he has done countless times, finding the bottom corner of the net with a superb strike from outside the box.

After the historic defeat of Saudi Arabia in their first game of Group C, one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, Argentina needed a win against Mexico to avoid having to beat Poland by three goals or more in their last group match in order to qualify for the Round of 16.

Although a victory against Mexico on Saturday was crucial, Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni will also have wanted to see a much improved performance as proof that the loss to Saudi Arabia was nothing more than a failure. Especially given that before this Saudi defeat, Argentina had gone 36 games unbeaten.

However, this performance never materialized, with Argentina looking stale and lifeless for much of the match.

As Mexico chased a result, spaces began to open up in their defense with increasing regularity and Enzo Fernandez claimed victory with a magnificent step forward and finished in the top corner after The three failed to clear his lines with a free kick.

Mexico started the game with a bang and were the better side in the opening 15 minutes, much to the delight of the huge contingent of traveling fans who serenaded their team with shouts of “olé” as the players crossed the Argentinian midfield.

From the noise made during the national anthems, it was clear that the Mexican supporters outnumbered their Argentine counterparts in the stands.

The first half went off with very little incident as neither team was able to create a single scoring chance.

For Argentina, it was a far cry from the performance many Qatari and home fans would have expected after that humiliating loss to Saudi Arabia.

There seemed to be no cohesion and, more worryingly, no idea how best to string together a handful of passes and start breaking down the Mexican defense.

The players seemed afraid to get on the ball and play gradually, with Messi spending much of the half wandering around the pitch away from the action.

With the last attack of the first half, Argentina finally created space on the right side of the Mexican back line, but Marcos Acuña’s poor cross was cleared easily.

Argentina coach Scaloni had made five changes to the side that lost to Saudi Arabia in hopes of receiving a backlash from their players, but he was left behind after a lackluster first-half performance.

Given the dangerous position Argentina were in, needing a win to have a realistic chance of advancing to the round of 16, this first half was both confusing and infuriating for the fans of The Albiceleste.

Five minutes into the second half, Messi finally came to life. The Argentina captain picked up a through ball and smashed his way towards the Mexico defence, only to be hacked away by Erick Gutierrez just outside the penalty area – otherwise known as ‘Messi territory’.

The ensuing free-kick, however, summed up Messi’s play as the Paris Saint-Germain striker fired well over the crossbar.

Enzo Fernandez secured victory for Argentina in the final stages.

Although Argentina were disappointing, Mexico deserved a lot of credit for snuffing out the attack from their opponents and Messi in particular.

But such is the quality of Messi, even a split-second loss of concentration can prove fatal and the Argentine delivered a crucial blow just after the hour mark.

Angel Di Maria, who had been one of Argentina’s least effective players on the night, found Messi completely unmarked at the edge of the penalty area.

It was the first time that evening that he had found himself with space and the captain only needed one chance, controlling the ball and firing an accurate shot into the bottom corner.

Despite all of Argentina’s shortcomings, Mexico never looked likely to come back into the game.

With Mexico continuing the game, Argentina began to look threatening at the break and a counterattack led to a short corner which Mexico failed to manage.

The ball found its way to replace Fernandez, whose fine pass past Gutierrez gave him enough space to loop the ball past Guillermo Ochoa.

In a game that was sorely lacking in quality, two individual moments of brilliance were enough to launch Argentina’s bid for the World Cup in Qatar.

There is certainly still a lot to do, but Scaloni will be relieved that his side go into the final group game against Poland with their fate in their hands.

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