Despite suffering one of the greatest World Cup shocks of all time in their opening game against Saudi Arabia, Lionel Scaloni’s Argentina side cruised to the last-16 of the tournament with a 2-0 victory over Poland.
Having scored in each of his last six Argentina appearances, Lionel Messi scuppered the chance to make it seven consecutive goals for the Albiceleste in a first half packed with drama. With the weight of a nation on his back, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner was forced to watch a poorly-struck penalty tipped around the post by Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny. Perhaps, some would suggest justice had been served, as the spot-kick itself was awarded in controversial fashion when Messi went down under a slight touch from Szczęsny inside the box.
Handed a reprieve with that Messi miss on the brink of the break, Poland failed to take advantage of the lifeline and fell behind almost immediately after the restart. Sweeping home a right-footed effort from inside the area, Alexis Mac Allister’s maiden Argentina goal put Scaloni’s side on top of Group C and in pole position to finish first.
Having been put through the rigmarole in their previous two group-stage fixtures, the hoards of Argentine supporters inside Stadium 974 and across the globe were treated to a somewhat comfortable end to proceedings. Shimmying inside onto his favoured, Julián Álvarez, who had come close in the first half, rocketed a right-footed strike into the top corner to give Argentina clear daylight.
With the three points all but secured for Argentina, attention switched to who would qualify alongside the Albiceleste. Poland, who spent most of the second half in second place by virtue of their superior disciplinary record, were forced to endure an agonising wait for full-time in the Mexico vs Saudi Arabia game. In the end, it didn’t matter, as Salem Aldawsari snatched a goal in added time to give Poland slender progression to the knockouts for the first time since 1986.