Lionel Messi and Argentina aren’t going anywhere yet.
After Argentina’s shock 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in their Group C opener, the Albiceleste would have been knocked out of the knockout tie with a loss to Mexico, who entered the the match with a point after drawing 0-0 with Poland.
But Argentina are now back in the thick of a tight Group C with a 2-0 win over El Tri thanks to two second-half goals.
Surprisingly, Mexico manager Gerard “Tata” Martino opted for a 5-3-2 formation which went against his usual system, but going with a back five offered more defensive security against Messi and co.
Argentina started in a 4-2-3-1 with Messi playing a central role on the free, but it gradually became a 3-4-3 with the full-backs retaining more width to stretch Mexico’s backline and give Messi and Ángel Di Maria an extra. space to move around inside.
However, Mexico’s 5-1-2-2 central block effectively stopped Argentina’s builder’s play as the full-backs and central midfielders could not find the passing lanes to send the ball to their creators. , and that led to Alexis Vega giving El Tri some of their best moments offensively.
The first half ended in a 0-0 draw with Argentina controlling possession 68% of the time, but that only resulted in one shot missing the target.
Now in the first part of the second half, it was more or less the same for Argentina. He just couldn’t string together enough passes to create a chance, but it helped Mexico play for the long ball/win second ball tactic that La Albiceleste cleaned up every time Vega or Hirving “Chucky” Lozano were trying to race.
Finally, in the 64th minute, Messi broke the deadlock with a low shot to the bottom right corner from outside the box that went out of Guillermo Ochoa’s reach to make it 1-0.
Mexico then became more aggressive in their attack to try to find the equalizer after Poland’s victory over the Green Falcons earlier on Saturday, but El Tri were unlucky.
In the 87th minute, 21-year-old Enzo Fernández announced himself on the world stage with a fine curling strike after coming on as a substitute in the 57th minute.
Argentina finished the game with five shots, two of which hit the target – and both were goals. Mexico had four with just one on target, and now it’s all to play on Wednesday.
The Albiceleste will face Poland with Mexico facing Saudi Arabia as all four teams are mathematically in contention for a top-two spot to advance to the knockout stages.