Goals from Lionel Messi and Enzo Fernandez kept Argentina’s World Cup hopes alive as they earned a crucial three points in their 2-0 victory over Mexico, but questions remain over their performances and their credentials to win the tournament.
The brief was simple, Argentina had to win the game at all costs to give themselves hope of reaching the last 16. It took them over an hour to get going but La Albiceleste sprung into life when they needed to and there was always going to be one man who would be the hero in their hour of need. In what is likely to be his swansong on this stage, Messi did something more than just score a goal to help keep his side in the tournament, he kept their dream alive.
Of course La Albiceleste will need to improve significantly if they are to evolve into serious contenders for the glory in Qatar, but even when he is not the energetic player of 10 years ago, Messi’s intelligence and skill with a ball at his feet is Argentina’s greatest weapon. As they say, form is temporary, class is permanent.
The Argentine architect's exquisite low-drilled shot was his way of saying he is not ready to wave goodbye to this prestigious tournament yet. His celebration when he saw the ball rustle the back of the net was one of the most passionate we’ve seen from the 35-year-old. He knew how important that goal was for him, his team and his nation.
The games that aren’t thrillers and you have two teams cancelling each other out always turn to stars for moments of quality, and Messi delivered just that against Mexico. In what is likely going to be his final bow at the World Cup, Messi’s goal, coupled with the more spirited performance from his teammates in the second half showed that Argentina have something to prove in this tournament but they will need to improve drastically, and time is against them.
The boisterous atmosphere inside the Lusail Stadium set the tone for the crunch match in what was a feisty encounter from the get-go. Argentina started as poorly as they finished against Saudi Arabia last time out. Mexico were making sure their presence was known and they looked a lot hungrier in their work in and out of possession.
Mexico were well-disciplined and their shape was excellent. So much so that they nullified Messi in the first half. The Argentine superstar was growing frustrated at how little impact he was able to have on the game as he rarely saw the ball. There weren’t too many chances for either side. Argentina were lacking because they were sluggish and Mexico as a result of lacking a recognised centre-forward. Alexis Vega came the closest from a long-range free-kick which Emiliano Martinez was able to gather with ease.
La Albiceleste came out for the second half with a lot more energy and they looked a lot more of a threat with the ball. Angel Di Maria gave them their most positive moment of the match up until that point when he skipped past a defender on the right and played an inviting pass into the box which no one could latch on to.
When the game was crying out for a bit of quality, Messi delivered. After picking up the ball outside the penalty area, the attacker fired in a brilliant shot into the bottom-right corner which left Guillermo Ochoa stranded. The win was later sealed by a wonderful curled effort from substitute Fernandez.
La Albiceleste still have a lot of work to do in their next match against Poland if they wish to progress to the knockout stages and Mexico simply have to beat Saudi Arabia to have any chance of qualifying themselves.