Argentina beat Poland 2-0 to advance to the Round of 16 in the 2022 FIFA World Cup as the South American football powerhouse won Group C on Wednesday. The Argentine national team were awarded a penalty after Poland’s goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny fouled Lionel Messi, who went up for a header. Szczesny saved the firm penalty taken by Messi in the 38th minute. But in the early minutes of the second half, Argentina took the lead as midfielder Alexis Mac Allister’s shot hit the bar and went into the back of Poland’s net. Argentine forward Julian Alvarez unleashed a vicious strike in the area to double the lead for his team in the 68th minute. Messi-led Argentina displayed a commanding performance against Poland and secured a 2-0 win at Stadium 974. Argentina, who have six points, will take on Group D runners-up Australia in the last 16 phase. Despite the loss, Poland completed the group stage in second position with four points.
Poland survived and qualified for the knockout stage on goal average. They will face defending champions France next. Third-placed Mexico have four points but conceded one more goal than Poland did in the group stage. The points and goal difference between Mexico and Poland were tied when Mexico were leading their match with Saudi Arabia 2-0. But Saudi Arabia scored an injury-time goal to upset Mexico. Mexico won the match 2-1 but were eliminated from Qatar 2022 after having a minus goal difference. Saudi Arabia have three points to come last in the group. Like Mexico, Herve Renard’s men returned home. After escaping their groups in dramatic circumstances, just three days later Argentina and last-16 opponents Australia meet at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on Saturday. Both nations’ World Cup adventures now continue into the knockout stages, following the Albiceleste’s recovery from a shock opening loss to Saudi Arabia and the Socceroos’ defeat of Denmark in midweek.
Having overcome a faltering start to their latest World Cup campaign, an Argentina squad fuelled by a hard-fought victory over Mexico in their second Group C fixture secured a spot in the last 16 by bettering a limited Poland side on Wednesday. The South American champions saw talisman Lionel Messi spurn the chance to open the scoring from a contentious first-half penalty, but were ultimately rewarded for 90 minutes of dominance by leapfrogging their European opponents at the top of the group standings. After Alexis Mac Allister – who had been promoted to the starting lineup as one of a handful of changes made by coach Lionel Scaloni – made the breakthrough only seconds after the interval, a 67th-minute strike from Julian Alvarez helped the Albiceleste to post a second successive 2-0 win. As a result, for the 11th time in the last 12 finals the two-time world champions have progressed to the knockout phase, and they remain among many pundits’ favourites to lift the World Cup trophy later this month.
While conditions will be the same for both his team and their next opponents, Scaloni has bemoaned the fact they will return to action after just over two days rest – particularly having followed such an emotionally draining route to the top of Group C. However, he knows that no excuses will be accepted by an expectant public back home in Argentina. To combat concerns about fatigue, the Copa America-winning coach can call upon several talented players to have emerged from the fringes of his squad, such as Mac Allister, Alvarez and Benfica’s Enzo Fernandez, though of course Messi still shoulders much of the creative burden. Argentina’s irreplaceable playmaker will surely be integral again, as they attempt to set up a quarter-final with either the Netherlands or United States, but he will need plenty of help from the supporting cast that put on a 36-game unbeaten streak only ended last week.
Given the gulf in stature between the two nations in football terms, it comes as no surprise that Australia have lost each of their last four meetings with Argentina – though the Socceroos earned a 2-0 win when two very different squads clashed at last year’s Tokyo Olympics. Yet, Graham Arnold’s men are riding the crest of a wave before they arrive in Al Rayyan for a date with destiny that sees them taking part in the World Cup knockout rounds for the first time since the fabled ‘golden generation’ of 2006. The unfancied Socceroos defied expectations to finish second in Group D behind defending champions France, doing so only on goal difference after winning two of their three fixtures – against Tunisia and then Euro 2022 semi-finalists Denmark. Beating the latter 1-0 at Al Janoub Stadium required both a fiercely-fought rearguard action led by Harry Souttar and goalkeeper Mat Ryan, and a wonderful winning goal from Matthew Leckie, which broke the deadlock in the 60th minute and ultimately sent them through to the last 16.
Realism is never far away from a pragmatic Australian side, largely made up of players on the fringe of things at their European clubs, so for all the euphoria their historic victory unleashed, they will be acutely aware of the step-up in class that awaits on Saturday. Already swept aside by a fluent French team, who ran out 4-1 winners in the sides’ opening fixture, Arnold’s well-drilled unit will be outsiders to topple Argentina and make the final eight for the first time ever. If they could somehow do so, jubilant scenes of fans celebrating on the streets of Melbourne in the early hours of Thursday morning would surely be matched – even surpassed – in Sydney, Adelaide and beyond. Though surely loath to change a winning team, Lionel Scaloni could feel the need to alter his starting lineup once again, given a rapid turnaround between games. Lisandro Martinez could therefore come into contention for a place in central defence, while Lyon’s Nicolas Tagliafico aims to usurp Marcos Acuna at left-back.
After making a substantial impression as a substitute in both of Argentina’s first two matches at the finals, Enzo Fernandez is set to hold off the challenge of Leandro Paredes, who has been consigned to the bench against both Poland and Mexico. Meanwhile, Lautaro Martinez was among a deep trove of attacking riches starting on the sidelines on Wednesday night, but Julian Alvarez’s goal may give him the edge in a battle to join stalwarts Angel Di Maria and Lionel Messi up front. Australia may also make a limited number of changes, as Nathaniel Atkinson and Fran Karacic – who started the first and second games respectively – compete with Milos Degenek, who then took up the reins at right-back against Denmark. Craig Goodwin endured a tough 45 minutes versus the Danes and was replaced by Keanu Baccus at half time, and the latter effortlessly slotted into the Aussies’ engine room next to Aaron Mooy. Graham Arnold could therefore make a brave call to include the relatively inexperienced St Mirren midfielder on Saturday. Up front, Mitchell Duke leads the line again, having so far exceeded his modest status as a man who plays his club football in Japan’s second tier.