When Argentina needed him the most, Lionel Messi appeared.
After being stifled by Mexico for the first 60 minutes of the match, the former Barcelona superstar picked up the ball through the middle, a handful of yards outside the area. In an instant, he rifled his shot past the outstretched arm of Guillermo Ochoa to give Argentina a 1-0 lead.
The euphoria among the Argentina players was palpable as a tremendous weight had been lifted off their shoulders with the goal. They came in to the match knowing they needed to win or else they’d be all but eliminated from the World Cup with one game left to go.
Throughout the first half, Argentina were sloppy and shaky trying to play out from the back. There were a couple of occasions where they gave the ball away in midfield but were fortunate the Mexican side was unable to do anything with it.
Their attack was disjointed with Messi being contained and forced to drop deep to get the ball. Angel Di Maria was also quieted and Lautaro Martinez was largely kept in check as he was getting little service.
Going into halftime, the game was proceeding the way Mexico would have wanted.
But things began to turn in the second half with a more measured Argentina side. Their patience paid off with the Messi opener as they took advantage of the Mexico midfield getting tired from the defending they had to do in the opening half. It was Hector Herrera who was late in covering Messi and who was unable to stop him from taking the shot.
Mexico switched from a 5-3-2 to a 4-3-3 in search of a goal. Argentina wasn’t troubled much in defending their lead as “Tata” Martino’s men were quite feeble going forward.
Enzo Fernandez put the bow on the proceedings with a wonderful goal of his own, getting past the tepid mark of Erick Gutierrez and curling a shot past Ochoa for the 2-0 win.
Mexico’s World Cup hopes hanging by a thread
As for Mexico, going with a 5-3-2 worked well in the first half. They pressured Argentina into making hasty decisions and giveaways in midfield. The biggest problem, which was a problem heading into the tournament, was their lack of goal scoring.
With Alexis Vega and Hirving “Chucky” Lozano as the two up top, the onus was on them to create something out of nothing when Mexico broke away. The downside was they found themselves isolated, making things easy for the Argentine defense.
The best opportunity for Mexico came from a free kick from Vega which was handled well by Emi Martinez. Both Lozano and Vega came off in the second half and Mexico were worse for it.
With one point, Mexico now need to beat Saudi Arabia by four or more goals and hope Poland either beat or draw against Argentina. They could also go through if they win and Argentina beat Poland. In any case, they need a win and need to score which, based on how things have played out, is not going to be an easy task.
As for Argentina, they keep their World Cup dreams alive. A draw could conceivably put them through. But they’ll surely be looking for a win since if they finish second, they’ll likely face France in the Round of 16.