Football News

Argentina 2-0 Mexico: Cometh the hour, cometh Lionel Messi to keep La Albiceleste’s World Cup dreams alive

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 21:30, 26 November 2022

Argentina kept their World Cup hopes alive following a 2-0 win over Mexico at Lusail Iconic Stadium this evening.

Lionel Scaloni’s men, who suffered a seismic 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia on matchday one, got back on their feet with talisman Lionel Messi once again being La Albiceleste‘s driving force. On the day after the second anniversary of Diego Maradona’s passing Barrilete Cósmico‘s heir delivered when Argentina needed him most. Before the Qatar tournament got underway Messi told FIFA that it was “strange, different” not to see Maradona in the tribunes or the “people going crazy when he appears.” Further adding he felt Maradona would always “be present somewhere.”

Messi’s breakthrough goal in fairness came out of nowhere; the Rosario-born playmaker had been subdued, playing on the periphery, before striking a 64th-minute effort past Guillermo Ochoa subsequently netting in his sixth successive game for his country. Just once before had Messi scored six in a row, doing so between November 2011 and September 2012. This was also his eighth at the World Cup (level with Maradona and Guillermo Stabile), behind only Gabriel Batistuta (10) for Argentina in the competition.

In a game of attrition, there were nearly more than four times the amount of fouls than shots. “Watching Messi 10 years ago when he was playing for Barcelona, players didn’t go near him because they didn’t think they could get the ball off him – they almost had to gang up on him,” Gary Neville noted at half-time. “But players aren’t fearful of him anymore. They’re going in to take the ball off him, they’re tackling him. He’s finding it really difficult out there.” It still felt that an individual moment of brilliance was going to change a game like this and like he’s done on so many occasions Messi, even if Mexico set out to stifle and frustrate him, stood up to be counted.

Gerardo Martino’s gameplan was consequently broken and the former Argentina head coach saw his side unable to recover. Instead, they were punished again late on when Enzo Fernandez scored his first international goal in the most amazing fashion. Rodrigo De Paul took a short corner which Messi picked up down the left wing, he’d release Fernandez who took a few strides before unleashing a vicious curling shot around Erick Gutiérrez and past Ochoa. A contender for the goal of the tournament. Messi’s touch means he is now both the youngest (18y 357d against Serbia in 2006) and the oldest (35y 155d against Mexico today) player to both score and assist in a single World Cup game since the start of the 1966 tournament.

The result leaves Mexico bottom of Group C albeit with a chance of sneaking through into the knockout phase. They meet Saudi Arabia who can also still qualify. Concerning El Tri supporters everywhere is the fact Mexico has failed to win both of their opening two matches of an edition of the tournament for the first time since 1978 when they lost all three of their group games.

“That is absolutely brilliant. What a finish into the far top corner, right-footed – on a postage stamp. Unbelievable finish,” Chris Sutton exclaimed on BBC Radio 5 Live. “That’s game, set and match. Fantastic, Fernandez. We’re right behind it and he drives inside the left of the box, gets his head up and arrows the ball in. Lovely stepover. It’s beautiful – no chance for the goalkeeper, it’s wide of him with the bend on the ball. Fernandez is on the money.”

Fernandez even wrote his name into the history books. He’s the youngest Argentine (21y 313d) to score at the World Cup since Lionel Messi in 2006 (18y 357d). By seeing this out Argentina kept their first clean sheet in seven World Cup matches since a goalless draw with the Netherlands in the 2014 semi-final (progressed to the final on penalties). On top of that Argentina has now won eight of their last 11 meetings with Mexico (drawing the other three).

Life now looks rosier for the pre-tournament favourites. The South American champions know a victory over Poland in their final group stage game sees them into the knockout phase.

“They have had a lot of critics over the last few days but they turned it around,” Roy Keane said on ITV.

“Credit to the young manager – he made changes before and during the game. The subs brought a bit of energy, quality and gave them that momentum.

“After the first goal, they weren’t losing that game. Their supporters will be feeling a lot better tonight.”