LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — With the providential left foot of Lionel Messi, Argentina extended its paternity over Mexico in World Cups and put themselves in contention for the round of 16.
The captain, who had been well controlled by the Mexican defense, whipped a left-footed shot from outside the box in the 64th minute that led the way to a 2-0 victory at the Lusail Stadium on Saturday in Group C and revived his own dream of lifting the trophy in his fifth World Cup.
The midfielder Enzo Fernández put the bow on the victory with an exquisite right hand to the angle at minute 87.
With this result, the Albiceleste added their first three points in the area, which Poland leads with four points after beating Saudi Arabia 2-0 earlier. The Green Hawks have three, while Mexico closes with only one point.
To qualify for the next stage, the Argentines need to beat Poland next Wednesday on the last date of the group stage.
Mexico — which lost the four duels it played against Argentina in the World Cups — does not depend on itself: it must beat Saudi Arabia on the last date and wait until Argentina does not do the same with Poland.
After an erratic first half like his entire team and without ever winning one-on-one, Messi appeared in full splendor at the moment of greatest confusion in Argentina: Ángel Di María, his partner in attack for more than a decade, overflowed on the right and assisted him. El Diez, strangely without custody, accommodated the ball with his thigh and took the shot that hit goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa’s stick.
It was the star’s eighth goal in his 20th World Cup game, all in the group stage.
Fernández celebrated his own after receiving a short corner kick, eluded Erick Gutiérrez and nailed his right foot into the corner.
Argentina, champion in 1978 and 1986, had just suffered one of its most humiliating defeats in the World Cup, 2-1 against Saudi Arabia in its debut, which put an end to the national record of 36 unbeaten games and complicated the plans of those led by Lionel Scaloni. considered a priori one of the great favorites to win the contest.
With the noose around his neck, the strategist changed half the team for the duel against the Mexicans, who had drawn goalless against the Europeans on the first day. Defender Cristian Romero, wingers Nahuel Molina and Nicolás Tagliafico and midfielders Leandro Paredes and Alejandro Gómez replaced Lisandro Martínez, Gonzalo Montiel, Marcos Acuña, Guido Rodríguez — the only Argentine player on the squad to play in Mexican soccer — and Alexis Mac Allister , respectively.
El Tri, for its part, had an unfavorable record in World Cups (0-3) against the South Americans, responsible for obstructing it on two occasions (2006 and 2010) from reaching the quarterfinals, which it has been denied since 1986. .
The Argentine coach Gerardo Martino surprised in Mexico with a line of five defenders and with Hirving Lozano as false 9, in a scheme that included three name changes compared to the debut, with the entry of Kevin Álvarez, Néstor Araujo and Andrés Guardado for Jorge Sánchez , Edson Álvarez and Henry Martín, respectively.
Three players with five World Cups came onto the pitch: Messi for Argentina, Ochoa and captain Guardado for El Tri. The latter barely played 40 minutes and was replaced by Gutiérrez due to a soreness in his right thigh.
Mexico en bloc cunningly cut through Argentina’s circuit of play and had the clearest chances of the first half when, after a free kick from Guardado from the left, the ball wandered dangerously around the albiceleste area, but no Mexican managed to push it after 10 minutes.
In the same way, Alexis Vega executed a free kick outside the area that was destined for the net, but was controlled by the Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez at 43.
Without offensive depth, the Albiceleste only caused concern with a free kick from Messi close to the corner kick that went straight to the goal and the goalkeeper “Memo” Ochoa cleared it with his fists.
Mexico’s sin in the second half was delaying to defend a draw that they did not dislike. And another one: Neglecting Messi.
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