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Messi saves the first ‘match ball’ against Mexico and keeps Argentina alive

BarcelonaLeo Messi does not want to say goodbye early to the World Cup in Qatar. The ex-Blaugrana saved the first match ball of Argentina scoring the goal that opened the can in the long-suffering victory against Mexico (2-0), which places thealbiceleste second with one day left. Any victory against Poland or a draw (as long as Mexico empathizes or does not beat Saudi Arabia by thrashing) would qualify Argentina for the round of 16. It will still be necessary to pass an exam, but, at the very least, the Argentine team will arrive alive at the last day. All in all, thanks to a sensational goal from Messi in the second half, when Argentina, completely stuck, was crying out for divine inspiration from its main star.

Only he, Messi, could break the 0-0 tie. Basically, because the ex-Blaugrana were the three dangerous shots that Argentina made in 85 minutes. The first two were fouls. One was rejected by Ochoa with his fists, the other didn’t even find the goal. The only time he was able to shoot from the front with the ball in motion he adjusted his shot to the base of the post, making Ochoa’s layup impossible. A goal full of anger and feeling, similar to the one he scored at Wembley against Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League final.

Scaloni did not want to relive the defensive mistakes made against Saudi Arabia and therefore shook up the line-up. The Argentinian coach almost completely revamped the defensive and midfield line: he only kept Otamendi and De Paul with respect to the eleven proposed on the first day. The selection albiceleste did not suffer much at the back because Mexico, beyond a long-range free-kick by Alexis Vega on the stroke of half-time, did not trouble Emiliano Martínez’s goal. Nor did it need to, at least with the tie on the scoreboard, Tata Martino’s combination, for whom the 0-0 was much more valuable than it was for Argentina. If the classification is up for grabs on the last day, it’s better to do it with Saudi Arabia than with Poland.

Argentina, without ideas in the middle

That is why Mexico proposed a rather rough, physical match, full of struggle and intense duels, with contained pressure and, above all, an immediate retreat. Every Mexican player that an Argentinean overtook responded with a defensive sacrifice to regain position and lend a helping hand in defense. The defensive structure of Tata Martino’s bravely complicated life for an Argentina that, with De Paul, Guido and Mac Allister in midfield, lacked creativity and ideas. It was a match for players with personality, but especially for talents with good feet capable of creating imbalances in the middle of a forest of legs. Mexico didn’t give chances and Argentina didn’t know how to create them.

Argentina’s lack of chances during the first hour of play was worryingly evidence of this team’s lack of offensive arguments. Surely Argentina is much more than what they have shown so far in Qatar, but it is also clear that their level of football is light years away from the best teams on the planet. Messi, who in previous World Cups had been accompanied by brilliant talents such as Riquelme, Aimar or Banega, missed a certain dose of creativity in the middle. More creative pieces on a board where I only found pawns.

At times, Messi relived his worst days with Argentina, those in which he was forced to act as a pivot, being the one who started the play from the base and also the one who had to finish it. This is how the goal arrived, in fact: Di María found it in front and the 10 did not forgive With the score 1-0, Argentina knew how to defend itself with the ball against an opponent who did not know how to react. With just a few minutes to go, Enzo Fernández showed that there is life beyond Messi, beating Ochoa with a beautiful curling shot. His goal can be key in the event of a tie on points on the last day. Argentina has not yet had its final say in Qatar.

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