Lionel Messi saved a penalty, but Argentina secured its ticket to the knockout stage of the 2022 World Cup after a 2-0 win over Poland.
Alexis Mac Allister’s poor effort at 60 seconds of the second period broke the deadlock. Julian Alvarez’s stunning curled shot secured the three points and Argentina was crowned Group C winners.
After Messi, Argentina’s most successful goal scorer had his penalty saved from Poland by Wojciech Szczesny, the opener was set.
Alvarez’s stunning finish in the second half was the perfect way to end a thrilling evening for Argentina. Now, Argentina will face Australia.
Poland qualified on goal difference to advance to the knockout stage.
Another Group C match was thrilling. Mexico beat Saudi Arabia 2-1. But the win wasn’t enough for the Central American team. Poland will now face France in a last-16 match.
An enthralling evening
Messi is under immense pressure, not only for the first time in his professional career but also because the 35-year-old Messi is constantly trying to lift Argentina from Diego Maradona’s long shadow.
Messi, playing in his 999th professional game, was up for the challenge and trounced Poland right from the beginning.
Although the Polish defense offered little during the match, Argentina increased the pressure with Messi and Marcos Acuna both coming close.
Argentina had a chance to win the game when the video assistant referee adjudged Messi was fouled by Wojciech Szczesny after he was struck in the face with the flailing hand of the Polish goalkeeper.
Szczesny was able to save Messi’s penalty. He managed to win the ball one-handed.
It was the culmination of a busy first half for Szczesny who ended the 45 minutes with nine saves as Argentina increased the pressure.
Opta Stats reports that Szczesny saved a penalty in his second tournament. He was the second goalkeeper to save penalties at the World Cup since 1966, having conceded one himself.
Argentina broke the deadlock in just 60 seconds.
Mac Allister was able to pass Nahuel Molina’s cut-back cross to his feet. His sloppy effort barely managed to get past Szczesny, sending Stadium 974 into delirium.
This was Mac Allister’s first international goal and he continues his outstanding year. He came to the World Cup as the top scorer for Brighton and Hove Albion’s Premier League club this season.
This goal seemed to calm the Argentina fans and players. Messi, Alvarez, and Angel Di Maria started to play with the Poland defense, turning on the flair.
Alvarez demonstrated why he was brought in for the game halfway through the second period – he had started the first two games on the bench and curled home to score his first World Cup goal.
As Poland opened up to the idea of trying to make itself back in the game it created more opportunities for Argentina with Messi, Lautaro Martinez, and Alvarez all getting close.
The final of Group C must have been a painful watch for Poland’s fans.
Mexico and Poland were tied for a short time in the match on goal difference. This meant that Poland was set to advance with its better disciplinary record.
There was one final twist to Wednesday’s proceedings, with Poland fans frantically checking their phones to keep track of proceedings and all eyes on any Polish players who were given a yellow card.
This was achieved by Salem Al Dawsari’s 95th-minute goal. Poland now has a better goal difference which ensures it will progress to the next stage.