Lionel Messi saved a penalty kick but Argentina booked their ticket to the knockout stage of the 2022 World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Poland.
Alexis McAllister’s sloppy effort 60 seconds into the second half broke the deadlock before Julian Alvarez’s superb strike sealed all three points as Argentina progressed as Group C winners.
The opening match came after Messi, Argentina’s all-time top scorer, saved a penalty kick taken by Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczecin.
Alvarez’s fine finish midway through the second half capped off an exciting evening for Argentina, who will now face Australia.
Poland advanced to the knockout stages with the skin of its fangs, and qualified on goal difference.
The other Group C match was a thriller, with Mexico beating Saudi Arabia 2-1, but the victory was not enough for the Central American side and Poland will now play France in their last-16 clash on Sunday.
It was not the first time in his career that all the pressure was placed firmly on Messi’s door, as the 35-year-old seeks to get out of the long shadow that Diego Maradona has cast on the Argentine national team.
Playing in his 999th professional match, Messi looked for a challenge, upsetting Poland from the first minute.
While the Polish attack offered very little throughout the match, Argentina turned up the pressure – and both Messi and left-back Marcos Acuña came close.
Argentina were offered a great chance to break the deadlock when the VAR ruled that Messi had been fouled by Wojciech Szczeusny when he was hit in the face by the Polish goalkeeper.
However, Messi’s penalty was brilliantly saved by Szczęsny who somehow beat the ball with one hand.
It was the crowning moment of a packed first half for Szczecin, who finished the first 45 minutes with nine saves to his name as Argentina ramped up the pressure.
The penalty saved by Chizusny was already the second goalkeeper in the tournament and he became only the second goalkeeper since 1966 to save a penalty kick in a World Cup after conceding it himself, after Joel Bats for France against Brazil in 1986, according to Opta Statistics.
It took just 60 seconds for Argentina to break the deadlock after the break.
A cross from right-back Nahuel Molina landed at the feet of McAllister, who managed to penetrate the Chesney net and send the 974 stadium into a state of delirium.
It was McAllister’s first international goal, and he continues his stellar year – he came to this World Cup as the top scorer for his Premier League side, Brighton & Hove Albion, this season.
This goal seemed to relax the Argentine players and fans inside the stadium. Messi, Álvarez and Ángel Di Maria began to turn in flair, playing with Poland’s defence.
Midway through the second half, Alvarez showed why he brought this game – he started the first two games of the group off the bench – as he curled home runs for his first World Cup goal.
As Poland opened up, it tried to pick itself up again in the match, opening up more spaces for Argentina, with Messi, Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez all closing in.
The Group C result must have been painful to watch for the Polish fans.
For a brief period of time during the match, Poland and Mexico were tied on goal difference. This means that Poland is set to advance with its better disciplinary record.
With Polish fans desperately checking their phones to follow the proceedings and with all eyes on whether any Polish players picked up a yellow card, there was the latest development in Wednesday’s proceedings.
That was delivered by Salem Al Dosari’s 95th-minute goal which gave Poland an impressive goal difference, ensuring they progressed to the next stage.
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