Second-half goals from Lionel Messi and Enzo Fernandez saw Argentina defeat Mexico 2-0 at Lusail Iconic Stadium to go second in Group C at 2022 FIFA World Cup.
After a nervy opening 63 minutes, Messi fired the two-time champions ahead from a clinical strike after he collected Angel Di Maria’s pass.
Fernandez then curled in Argentina’s second goal in the 87th minute after he picked up Messi’s pass to wrap up victory.
Argentina now sit second in Group C after Poland moved top of Group D following a 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia, in which Piotr Zielinski and Robert Lewandowski scored late in both halves respectively for the Polish.
Despite knowing that their World Cup dreams relied upon ideally a win, Argentina struggled to get going in the opening 20 minutes as Mexico saw two free-kicks wasted in a sluggish start for both teams.
Lionel Scaloni’s Argentineans eventually began to get into the game as Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Montiel saw chances go begging, before Messi headed over from Marcos Acuna’s 28th minute cross.
Four minutes later, Rodrigo De Paul found himself fouled by Alexis Vega on the right after he collected a headed clearance from a corner, with Guillermo Ochoa punching clear the consequential free-kick.
Mexico eventually finished the goalless first half on top as Erick Gutierrez was fouled by Montiel, with Vega’s subsequential free-kick saved by Emiliano Martinez as the ball looked destined for the top-left corner.
Argentina however began the second half as the more hungrier team and Messi drew a foul from substitute, Erick Gutierrez in the 50th minute but curled his free-kick over the bar.
Messi however would be the man to break the deadlock 14 minutes later as he picked up Di Maria’s square pass from the right into the central third, with the 35 year-old rifling his shot across into the bottom-right corner to trigger wild celebrations.
Substitute, Nahuel Molina then missed a chance to wrap up victory seven further minutes later as he fired a 70th minute shot over from Acuna’s cross.
Argentina however ultimately found a second goal in the 87th minute courtesy of fellow substitute, Fernandez as he picked up Messi’s pass and rifled across into the top-right corner to secure victory.
The result ultimately left Mexico bottom of Group C behind Saudi Arabia who lost to Poland, which put the Polish top from Argentina ahead of their meeting on Wednesday 30 November in the final round of group matches.
Victory for Poland or Argentina would see either team through whilst the other would have to hope that Saudi Arabia and Mexico draw elsewhere in order to progress, although victory for Saudi Arabia would see one of Poland or Argentina eliminated.
Should Mexico win and Argentina draw their clash against Poland though, then the maths could get messy depending on goal difference finishing level, which would lead to further tie-break criteria being utilised.
France Seal Last 16 Spot
Reigning champions, France secured qualification for the knockout stage with a 2-1 win over Denmark in Group D, courtesy of Kylian Mbappe’s brace despite his 61st minute opener having been cancelled out by Andreas Christiansen’s headed equaliser.
Australia climbed to second in Group D after Mitchell Duke’s 23rd minute header proved enough to defeat Tunisia, although both teams know that qualification is still in the balance.
Victory over Denmark in their final group match would see Australia qualify as Group D runners-up irrespective of what Tunisia achieve against France, but should Tunisia and Denmark both win their final group matches then goal difference will be crucial in determining who advances.
Argentina: Emiliano Martinez, Gonzalo Montiel (Molina 63′), Nicolas Otamendi, Lisandro Martinez, Marcos Acuna, Rodrigo De Paul, Guido Rodriguez (Fernandez 57′), Angel Di Maria (Romero 69′), Lionel Messi, Alexis Mac Allister (Palacios 69′), Lautaro Martinez (Alvarez 63′)
Substitutes: Franco Armani, Juan Foyth, Nicolas Tagliafico, Leandro Paredes, German Pezzella, Julian Alvarez, Geronimo Rulli, Cristian Romero, Exequiel Palacios, Angel Correa, Thiago Almada, Alejandro Gomez, Paulo Dybala, Enzo Fernandez, Nahuel Molina
Mexico: Guillermo Ochoa, Cesar Montes, Nestor Araujo, Hector Moreno, Kevin Alvarez (Jimenez 66′), Hector Herrera, Andres Guardado (Gutierrez 42′), Luis Chavez, Jesus Gallardo, Hirving Lozano (Alvarado 73′), Alexis Vega (Antuna 66′)
Substitutes: Alfredo Talavera, Edson Alvarez, Johan Vasquez, Gerardo Arteaga, Luis Romo, Carlos Rodriguez, Raul Jimenez, Rogelio Funes Mori, Rodolfo Cota, Erick Gutierrez, Orbelin Pineda, Jorge Sanchez, Henry Martin, Uriel Antuna, Roberto Alvarado
Referee: Daniele Orsato (Italy)