LUSAIL, Qatar — Goals from Lionel Messi and Enzo Fernandez saved Argentina from World Cup elimination and beat Mexico 2-0 on Saturday in Group C.
In front of 88,966 supporters at Lusail Stadium, the match was nervous at first with many fouls but a lack of chances on both sides. Then, in the second half, Messi opened the scoresheet with a perfect 64th-minute chance that put the South Americans ahead 1-0.
In the 87th minute, Fernandez sealed the 2-0 result with a fine shot that snuck past Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
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1. Argentina bounce back with maiden win to keep World Cup hopes alive
After a shocking 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in their first game of the group stage, Argentina couldn’t lose to Mexico and responded with a meaningful result at the Lusail Stadium.
Initially encountering obstacles with SortingMessi’s defensive game plan through a 5-3-2 formation, Messi finally pounced on a second-half shot that sent the Lusail Stadium into a frenzy. El Tri appeared shaken after the goal, leaving an inevitable chance later for Fernandez to make it 2-0 in the dying moments.
The result is much more than the three points won. Had Argentina lost, the title contenders would have deserved a shocking early exit from the World Cup in the group stage. More importantly, Messi also reportedly went home empty-handed after previously noting it would be his last World Cup.
For now, the hopes of the Argentine sporting nation remain.
2. Martino’s tactical experience for Mexico fails
Mexico coach Tata Martino raised some eyebrows when he decided to ditch his usual 4-3-3 formation and opt for a 5-3-2 against Argentina instead.
The strategy of putting more numbers in defense seemed frustrating at first The Albiceleste, who only needed a little time to understand. In the second half, however, Argentina put Mexico on the ropes with goals from Messi and Fernandez, leaving Sorting with a more ominous path to the knockout round.
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– Mexican supporters in Qatar in full force despite the team’s low profile
Now, even if Mexico beat Saudi Arabia in the last game of the group stage, Martino and his men will also have to hope that the score of Poland-Argentina plays in their favor.
Had Sorting having only drawn a draw against Argentina on Saturday, they would then only need three points against Saudi Arabia, and would not have needed to rely on the other result.
3. After a quiet start, Messi emerges as a hero
Where is Messi? That was the question many were asking ahead of Saturday’s game and even during the first half – but there he was at the Lusail stadium, scoring one of the most important goals for Argentina so far in the 2022 World Cup.
Playing with the eagerness and drive of someone who didn’t want his swan song to end in the group stage, the superstar was brilliant with his movement and goal in the second half. Then a few minutes before the end of regulation time, the n°10 would come out again with an assist for Fernandez.
Messi and his team still have a lot of work to do in the group stage, but it will be a huge relief for the fans to see him score again and provide an assist for Qatar.
Mexico: Guillermo Ochoa 5, Kevin Alvarez 6, Nestor Araujo 5, Cesar Montes 6, Hector Moreno 5, Jesus Gallardo 5, Hector Herrera 6, Andres Guardado 7, Luis Chavez 6, Hirving Lozano 6, Alexis Vega 6
Subtitles: Erick Gutierrez 6, Raul Jiménez 6, Uriel Antuna 6, Roberto Alvarado 5
Argentina: Emiliano Martinez 7, Gonzalo Montiel 6, Nicolas Otamendi 7, Lisandro Martinez 7, Marcos Acuna 7, Rodrigo de Paul 6, Guido Rodriguez 7, Angel Di Maria 7, Lionel Messi 9, Alexis Mac Allister 7, Lautaro Martinez 6
Subtitles: Enzo Fernandez 8, Julian Alvarez 7, Nahuel Molina 7, Cristian Romero 7, Exequiel Palacios 6
Best and Worst Performers
BEST: Lionel Messi, Argentina
Goal, assist and deserved Man of the Match winner: the global superstar is the reason Argentina are still fighting for a place in the Round of 16.
WORST: Jesus Gallardo, Mexico
The wing-back looked overwhelmed when the Argentine wandered into his defending zone and often had no problem shoving his way past him. Going forward, he didn’t provide much.
Highlights and Moments
There were no highlights or notable moments in the first half.
Don’t believe us? There were only three knocks total (one for Argentina, two for Mexico) and expected goals, or xGs, were the lowest in a 2022 World Cup half to date. Mexico only recorded a 0.07 xG and Argentina did even worse with 0.05.
The second half seemed to go the same way until seemingly out of nowhere Lionel Messi found the back of the net for Argentina.
We can’t stress enough how little happened for the other side of the attack, and how Messi turned and fired in a split second well outside the box and managed to place it perfectly. It was the goal that saved Argentina’s World Cup.
Where is Messi?
Messi is HERE 🐐🇦🇷 pic.twitter.com/XpxXYpBR0p
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 26, 2022
With Argentina leading 1-0, the state of the game changed – everything opened up and Argentina were suddenly ahead.
Enzo Fernandez dashed any hopes of a Mexico comeback with a sensational curling strike from the inside corner of the box. It was a beauty to give Argentina a 2-0 lead.
🔥 ¡QUE GOLAAAAAZ⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️!
— Telemundo Sports (@TelemundoSports) November 26, 2022
After the game: What players and managers said
Argentina’s Lionel Messi on the result: “After the goal we went back to who we are. So it’s great – we needed this result, we needed this euphoria in this game that we had to win.”
Messi on the game changer: “…It all came down to two simple games. We knew that today we had to win, that another World Cup was starting for us and we knew what to do. We can’t let our guard down now. “
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Messi has scored 13 goals for Argentina in 2022, his highest in a calendar year. (Next best: 12 goals in 2012.)
Messi has scored in six straight games for Argentina, equaling his longest scoring streak for the Albiceleste (from November 2011 to September 2012).
At 21 years and 313 days, Fernandez is the youngest player to score for Argentina in the World Cup since Messi in 2006 against Serbia and Montenegro (18 years and 358 days).
The last time Mexico scored 1 point or less after two World Cup group stage games was in 1978 when Mexico lost all three group games.
Mexico are now scoreless in four consecutive World Cup games for the first time in El Tri history, starting with the last World Cup. The only time Mexico went scoreless in each of their first two games in the group stage of a World Cup was in 1962.
Mexico: There is one match left in Group C for Sortingand they will face Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, November 30 at 2 p.m. ET, which will determine whether or not Mexico advance to the knockout stages. The quinto partido (a coveted and long-awaited fifth match in the quarter-finals) is at stake – they must achieve the quarter (the fourth game) first.
Argentina: Likewise, The Albiceleste complete Group C against Poland on Wednesday, November 30 at 2 p.m. ET. Now that they haven’t lost to Mexico, a knockout shot is still in play for Argentina.