Messi strikes to keep Argentina’s World Cup hopes alive
Argentina revived their chances of reaching the World Cup knockout stages in Qatar as goals from Lionel Messi and Enzo Fernandez gave them a 2-0 win over Mexico.
After suffering an opening defeat to Saudi Arabia in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, Argentina knew that a repeat against Mexico would end their hopes in Qatar, while a draw would also leave their fate hanging by a thread.
In the end, it was Messi to the rescue again as he a hit a 64th-minute goal before Fernandez added a brilliantly taken second in the closing stages.
After Poland beat Saudi Arabia 2-0 earlier on Saturday, Group C heads to what promises to be a tight denouement on Wednesday when the Poles play Argentina and Mexico take on the Saudis.
Poland currently lead the way on four points, with Argentina and Saudi Arabia level on three and Mexico bottom of the pile on one point from their two matches.
That Argentina remain alive is again partly thanks to their captain Messi, who was equaling Diego Maradona’s record of 21 appearances in World Cup games for his country.
A raucous atmosphere in the stands at Lusail Stadium wasn’t initially matched by the action on the pitch in the first half as both teams struggled to create chances.
Mexican winger Alexis Vega tested Argentine goalkeeper Emi Martinez with a free-kick just before the break, while Messi lifted a free-kick of his own over the crossbar five minutes into the second half from what looked like a promising position.
But two-time tournament winners Argentina began to press and the breakthrough came just after the hour mark through their talisman.
Collecting the ball on the edge of the box, Messi shuffled to make space before sending a low drive into the bottom corner, beyond the reach of despairing Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
The crowd erupted as Messi pumped his arms in celebration, well aware of the magnitude of a goal which rekindled the World Cup hopes of Lionel Scaloni’s team.
Mexico failed to mount any semblance of a comeback, and substitute Fernandez doubled Argentina’s lead on 87 minutes when the midfielder collected a pass from Messi just inside the box, whipping a superb effort into the far corner.
Messi, 35, has already said this will be his World Cup swansong.
Despite ending his hoodoo with Argentina by winning the Copa America last year, the World Cup remains a glaring omission on a glittering resume in which he has won every accolade possible at club level, as well as seven Ballon d’Or crowns.
Messi and Argentina will breathe a sigh of relief that they live to fight another day in Qatar heading into the last round of Group C games.