Argentinian national coach Scaloni went through his team with the broom after the astonishing defeat against Saudi Arabia. Only six players remained. At Mexico, coach Martino, an Argentinian, chose Guardado’s experience.
The tone was already set in the first minutes with an insane intensity. Cracking tackles came from everywhere. Playing football was almost impossible in a kind of lucha libre, from which only Vega could occasionally escape. The Mexican striker signed for the only ball between the posts before the break. Martinez floated his free kick photogenically out of the cross.
The second half brought more of the same, but a little closer to Mexico’s rectangle. Argentina got more and more control of the game, although it remained hard work to create opportunities. When Di Maria swerved past a few opponents, he couldn’t reach Mac Allister.
The hitherto relatively invisible Messi decided just after the hour when his moment had come. He took advantage of half a second of Mexican inattention and pushed the ball from outside the box right into the corner. The sky-blue half of the Lusail Stadium was in ecstasy.
Mexico had to change course and look for an equalizer, but was unable to do so. In fact, substitute Fernandez doubled the score for Argentina. He took over from Messi, shook a dribble from his hips and turned his shot out of Ochoa’s reach into the top corner. A second gem, with which Argentina holds its fate in its own hands.