Superb goals by Lionel Messi and Enzo Fernandez have earned Argentina a 2-0 win over Mexico in a pulsating atmosphere at Lusail Stadium on Saturday.
The result breathes new life into the South American side’s World Cup campaign after they suffered a stunning defeat in their Group C opener against Saudi Arabia.
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Argentina knew another defeat would send them out of the tournament, but they started poorly, struggling to cope with Mexico’s high press as Messi was denied time and space to operate.
Messi broke the deadlock in the 64th minute, arrowing a low shot through a crowd of defenders into the corner, equalling Diego Maradona’s Argentina record of 21 matches and eight goals at the World Cup.
The Argentinian fans, who made up the majority of this 88,966-strong crowd, erupted. More than 5,000 Argentina fans already live in Qatar.
Enzo Fernandez sealed the victory in the 87th minute with a wonderful arcing strike. From an Argentinian corner won on the left side, Fernandez was able to slalom himself towards the corner of the penalty box before unleashing a strike of some quality that curled into the top right of the goal.
In doing so, Fernandez became the youngest player to score at a World Cup for Argentina since Messi himself in 2006.
“Today starts another World Cup for Argentina,” Messi said after the final whistle. “I tell people the same thing, that they continue to believe.
“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.”
Mexico, who have now lost all four of their World Cup clashes with Argentina, have one point and must beat Saudi Arabia, who have three points, to have any chance of making the Round of 16, as they have in the past seven World Cups.
With the prospect of an Argentina elimination ahead of this game, tensions were high on and off the ball in a scrappy first half, with the two sets of fans creating an electric atmosphere inside and outside the stadium.
The opening period did not live up to the match’s billing, with neither team wanting to commit too many players forward, and, save for 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 Argentinian talisman Messi struggled to find any space to manoeuvre in a congested midfield.
But in a serious blow to Mexico, skipper Andres Guardado, a veteran of five World Cups who until then had been a commanding presence in midfield, was taken off injured in the 42nd minute.
The Mexicans still carved out two more chances before the break with Alexis Vega first curling a free kick over the wall for keeper Emiliano Martinez to save and, minutes later, thundering a shot over the bar.
The South Americans looked more determined after the break but had no real chance before their 35-year-old captain dragged them out of trouble with his second goal of the tournament, reviving his chances of winning a first-ever World Cup title.