Fans from across the globe flooded into Lusail Stadium on a peaceful Saturday night. Songs and cheers for either side echoed through the stadium corridors as the players warmed up and prepared themselves for a critical world cup match. By the night’s end, Messi produced a moment of trademark magic to help keep Argentina’s World Cup hopes alive.
The Argentine fans made a canopy for boarding passengers by tying a long banner to the handrails above them five hours before the game. They performed tribute songs to the late Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, and their uniformed hopping shook the transport vehicles like a bouncy house.
Each stop attracted fresh visitors, most of whom wore Argentina’s soft hues or the striking green of its dangerous adversary, Mexico.
Following the shocking loss to Saudi Arabia in their opening match, Messi and Argentina knew defeat would kill their ambitions of making it to the round of 16 after just two games.
Mexico entered the game hoping to frustrate Messi in an attritional match, especially in the first half, which was rife with fouls and pauses that prevented Argentina from gaining momentum.
After a shocking 2-1 defeat against Saudi Arabia, Argentine head coach Lionel Scaloni revised the formation considerably. The formation saw a change from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2, featuring Messi moving into an attacking forward role.
In the defense, right-back Gonzalo Montiel replaced Atletico Madrid youngster Nahuel Molina. The center backs featured long-time Argentina veteran Nicolas Ottamendi on the right and Lisandro Martinez on the left. Scalini opted to replace left-back Nicolas Tagliafico with Marcos Acuña.
In the midfield, Argentina utilized center defensive midfielder Guido Rodriguez instead of Leandro Paredes. Atletico Madrid’s partner of Molina and consistent right midfielder Rodrigo De Paul saw the field again. However, there was some speculation on whether or not Giovani Lo Celso would be able to return from injury. Alexis MacAllister rounded out the midfield, replacing Papu Gómez.
The Argentine attack shifted from a traditional two-winger, one-striker formation into a two-striker formation that utilized Messi dropping into the back to help the defense. No changes were made to the attack other than Lautaro Martinez moving to the left and Di Maria moving to the right.
Starting Argentina XI: Martínez; Montiel, Otamendi, Lisandro Martínez, Acuña; De Paul, Guido Rodríguez, Mac Allister; Messi; Di Maria, Lautaro Martínez
Raul Jimenez’s participation against Portugal benefited Mexico, although he did not start against Argentina.
Due to an injury, the striker has not featured for Wolves since August, although he came off the bench to play 19 minutes in the first Group C encounter. His return to the team would be appreciated, as Mexico struggled to match Poland’s excellent build-up play with a decisive advantage.
While Guillermo Ochoa, a World Cup specialist, is set to defend the posts, Alexis Vega and Hirving Lozano again started in the wide areas after both players were impressed in their previous match against Poland.
Starting Mexico XI: Ochoa; K.Álvarez, Araújo, Moreno, Montes, Gallardo; Guardado, Herrera, Chávez; Lozano, Vega
Mexico was frustrating Messi in an attritional match, especially in the first half, which was rife with fouls and pauses that prevented Argentina from gaining momentum.
After 64 minutes, Messi changed everything when he controlled a pass with his left foot and drilled a precise finish past Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Vast crowds of Argentina fans in the 88,966-person group erupted in joy and relief as their World Cup campaign resumed. Three minutes before the end, Enzo Fernandez added an excellent second goal by curling a shot into the top corner, but Messi was the one who created the opening and the difference.
It was what the entire nation of Argentina desired and expected of their excellent talisman, and the 35-year-old delivered for the club and country when they most needed him.
This highly regarded team had faced severe danger. Argentina was aware that a loss in Qatar would be their demise. Messi knew losing would end his desire to add the World Cup to his sparkling and long list of achievements.
He did it in the footsteps of another superstar, Kylian Mbappe, whose two goals against Denmark propelled France into the round of 16. Nevertheless, he showed his resolve to avoid being surpassed by the other members of his elite group.
Supported by their crowds of fans, Mexico was in no mood to yield, and it required that momentous occasion.
Argentina continued the pressure, showing increased pressure in the second half. Runs down the wing put consistent pressure against Mexico, though none of the crosses proved effective against the formidable Mexican defense.
In the 87th minute, Argentine substitute Enzo Fernandez closed the game with an outrageous curler into the back right of the net.
To give Argentina an extra push moving forward with his box-to-box skills, Fernández was substituted for Guido Rodriguez in the 57th minute. The change proved effective for the team, as Fernandez’s goal seemed like it was the final nail in the coffin for Mexico.
Mexico will face off against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday at 2:00 eastern while Argentina will battle against Lewandowski’s lead Poland. Both games will be at the same time and are available to watch on FS1.
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