Argentina can still finish in first place in a tight Group C
Lionel Messi and Argentina are not going anywhere yet.
Following Argentina’s shocking upset 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in its Group C opener, La Albiceleste would’ve been eliminated from knockout contention with a loss against Mexico, which came into the game with a point after drawing 0-0 with Poland.
But Argentina is now back in the thick of a tight Group C with a 2-0 win over El Tri thanks to two second-half goals.
Surprisingly, Mexico’s manager Gerard “Tata” Martino opted for a 5-3-2 lineup that went against his usual system, but going with a back five provided more defensive security against Messi and Co.
Argentina started with a 4-2-3-1 with Messi playing in a free-roam role centrally, but it gradually became a 3-4-3 with the fullbacks holding more width to stretch Mexico’s backline and give Messi and Ángel Di Maria extra space to move inside.
However, Mexico’s 5-1-2-2 midblock effectively shut down Argentina’s build-up play as the fullbacks and center midfielders couldn’t find the passing lanes to get the ball to their creators, and it led to Alexis Vega giving El Tri some of their best moments offensively.
The first half ended in a 0-0 tie with Argentina controlling possession for 68% of the time, but it only resulted in one shot that didn’t hit the target.
Now into the early portion of the second half, it was more of the same for Argentina. It just couldn’t string enough passes to create a chance, but it helped that Mexico played for the long ball/win the second ball tactic that La Albiceleste cleaned up anytime Vega or Hirving “Chucky” Lozano tried to make a run.
Finally, in the 64th minute, Messi broke the deadlock with a low shot to the bottom right corner from outside the box that went out of Guillermo Ochoa’s reach to make it 1-0.
Mexico then became more aggressive in its attack in an attempt to find the equalizer following Poland’s win over the Green Falcons earlier on Saturday, but El Tri had no luck.
In the 87th minute, 21-year-old Enzo Fernández announced himself to the world stage with a beautiful curling strike after coming on as a substitute in the 57th minute.
Argentina finished the contest with five shots that saw two hit the target – and both were goals. Mexico had four with just one on target, and now it’s all to play for on Wednesday.
La Albiceleste will take on Poland with Mexico facing Saudi Arabia as all four teams are mathematically in the race for a top-two finish to advance to the round of 16.