FIFA World Cup

Messi keeps World Cup dream alive with magic strike against Mexico

Messi keeps World Cup dream alive with magic strike against Mexico

RELIEF. Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their first goal with Julian Alvarez (right) and Angel Di Maria.

Pedro Nunes/REUTERS

‘We have peace of mind and it's back in our hands again,’ says Lionel Messi after facing the prospect of an Argentina elimination before their electric win over Mexico

LUSAIL, Qatar – Argentina eased the pressure from their shock opening World Cup defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabia by beating Mexico and can now approach their final group game against Poland with peace of mind, captain Lionel Messi said.

Argentina beat Mexico, 2-0, at the Lusail Stadium thanks to second-half goals from Messi and Enzo Fernandez on Saturday, November 26 (Sunday, November 27, Manila time) to climb to second place in Group C, a point behind Poland.

“It’s a weight off our shoulders,” Messi said. “We have peace of mind and it’s back in our hands again.”

Messi kept his dream of winning his first World Cup alive by rifling in the opening goal, proving he was far from done in the tournament.

The Argentine, competing in his fifth World Cup at age 35, has won every other major title in his career but has failed to lift the coveted trophy despite making the final in 2014.

But his 64th minute strike that was followed by substitute Fernandez’s sublime effort three minutes from time, reignited their hopes of advancing past the group stage after their shock 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in their opener.

Messi, who equaled Diego Maradona’s Argentina record of 21 matches and eight goals at the World Cup, was nowhere to be seen for more than an hour before picking up an Angel Di Maria pass, finding just enough space and rifling in from 20 meters.

Fernandez made sure of the victory when he curled a superb shot into the top corner.

Argentina, on three points, can guarantee progress with a win over Poland, top on four, in their final game on Wednesday.

“Today starts another World Cup for Argentina,” Messi said. “I tell people the same thing, that they continue to believe. Today we did what we had to do.

“We had no other choice. We had to win so that we depended only on ourselves.”

Argentina would have been eliminated from the tournament had they lost to Mexico.

“The first half we didn’t play as we should and in the second, when we calmed down, we started to play the ball better and until the goal we went back to being what we are,” he said.

Mexico, who have now lost all four World Cup clashes with Argentina, have one point and must beat Saudi Arabia, on three, to have any chance of continuing their run of making the last 16 in the last seven World Cups, but even that might not be enough.

With the prospect of an Argentina elimination, tensions were high on and off the ball in a scrappy first half but with the two sets of fans creating an electric atmosphere in the stadium.

Neither team wanted to commit too many players forward and apart from a free kick by Mexico’s Luis Chavez in the ninth minute that sailed past the goalmouth there were few chances.

Mexico’s high pressing game stifled most of their opponents’ attack and Messi struggled to find any space to maneuver in a congested midfield.

Apart from a Lautaro Martinez effort that was well off the mark and another from Messi, Argentina were toothless up front.

But in a major blow to Mexico, skipper Andres Guardado, a veteran of five World Cups who until then had been a commanding presence in midfield, had to be taken off injured in the 42nd.

The Mexicans still carved out two more chances with Alexis Vega before the break but the tables would turn in the second half.

The South Americans looked more determined after the break and their captain and talisman dragged them out of trouble with his second goal of the tournament.

The stadium erupted in cheers once more with Fernandez’s late strike which sealed Argentina’s first win in the tournament and rekindled Messi’s hopes of a first ever World Cup title that would match that of the late Maradona from 1986.

Immense pressure

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni acknowledged that his team had been under immense pressure before the match and that the overwhelming feeling after the win was one of relief.

“We should have more common sense. It’s just a football game,” he said. “It’s not good, the feeling that you’re playing something more than a football match. It’s not nice.

“The feeling that we all had was relief (but) we need to make some adjustments.

“We must try to make the players feel that this is a football game because otherwise every time we need to play a match, or to go to a knockout stage, go through a tournament or whatever, it will be always like this with Argentina.

“Of course it’s difficult to make people understand that tomorrow the sun will shine whether you lose or you win. And that the important thing is how you did things, if you did it in the best possible way. That’s what we always try to do.”

Scaloni also called on his players to stay grounded after the victory and focus on the task ahead. Argentina can guarantee progress with a win over Poland on Wednesday.

“Maybe you think I’m crazy, but we can say yes, we want to enjoy. Of course they enjoy this moment in the dressing room. I also enjoyed the moment.

“But that’s it. Tomorrow, we will prepare the next game, the same thing that we did when we won the Copa America (last year).

“Happiness lasts only for some minutes. We need to find that emotional balance, whether we win or lose. That’s what we need to have.”

“Poland will be a difficult match. That’s the reality… I won’t say we will try, I say we will win the game. That’s what we all want. And if that’s not the case, will bring our A game just as we did today.” –

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