Doha, Nov 26 (EFE).- A bit of brilliance by Lionel Messi transformed Saturday’s World Cup 2022 match here between Argentina and Mexico, putting the Albiceleste on track for a 2-0 victory that spared them the humiliation of being eliminated before the end of the group stage.
Argentina faced a do-or-die situation after their mortifying 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in the opener and nearly 89,000 people packed into Doha’s Lusail Stadium to watch them fight for survival against El Tri.
The Argentines improved to 3 points, enough for second place in Group C behind Poland, who are on 4 points after beating the Saudis earlier Saturday.
Saudi Arabia also have 3 points, but trail the South American side on goal difference.
Next Wednesday’s final group stage matches, Argentina-Poland and Mexico-Saudi Arabia, will decide which two teams advance to the knockout stage.
The defeat to the Saudis was traumatic for supporters of Argentina who were confident that Messi’s fifth – and almost certainly final – World Cup would bring the triumph that has so far eluded the 35-year-old superstar.
Mexico’s defense-first approach to Saturday’s match was effective in the first half, as Argentina’s first shot came only in the 40th minute.
And El Tri had the best chance before the break in the form of a superb free kick by Alexis Vega that forced an impressive stop from Argentine keeper Emiliano Martinez.
Erick Gutierrez committed a needless foul against Messi five minutes into the second half and the seven-time Ballon d’Or took the free kick. Though his shot cleared the Mexican wall, it failed to drop and ended up sailing over the cross-bar.
With the score still 0-0, Angel Di Maria got the ball to Messi and the striker beat keeper Guillermo Ochoa with a low blast from 25 yards to give Argentina the lead.
Messi’s eighth World Cup goal – and second of the current tournament – brought him level with the late Diego Maradona, who was team captain in 1986, the last time Argentina hoisted the trophy.
Argentina sealed the win in the 87th minute with an inaugural World Cup goal by 21-year-old sub Enzo Fernandez, who sent a magnificent strike into the far top corner after taking a pass from Messi.