Who: Poland vs Argentina, Group C
Where: Stadium 974
When: Wednesday, November 30, 10pm (19:00 GMT)
The defeat to Saudi Arabia had broken Argentina. Lionel Messi spoke of the days being long in the aftermath of the opening game. Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez met a psychologist. Lautaro Martinez said the game against Mexico was akin to a World Cup final.
They entered the Lusail Stadium on Saturday night on the brink of elimination and for the first hour played like a team that deserved to be sent home.
Their inability to cope with the pressure was best evidenced by midfielder Rodrigo de Paul, who seemed unable to string a pass together to save his life. The din at the Argentinian end wasn’t a reflection of fans’ confidence in the team as much as it conveyed the high-stakes nature of the occasion.
The Lusail match was kindled with desperation and Messi’s 65th-minute goal blew its lid off. The most striking image amid the primal scenes that followed was that of Argentina assistant coach Pablo Aimar breaking into tears on the bench. It wasn’t just a goal; it was a stay of execution.
Messi's childhood idol Pablo Aimar tearing up after Messi's goal 🥺❤️ pic.twitter.com/EGj9zwZaCg
— Akhlash (@Akhlash_lm10) November 26, 2022
“We knew that today we had to win, that another World Cup started for us and we knew what to do,” Messi said immediately after the game.
Argentina will have to relive that tension against Poland. They enter the game with points on the board but the pressure remains unchanged. Anything less than a win could leave their fate dependent – yet again – on Saudi Arabia, who play Mexico in their final group stage game.
The Poles currently sit top of the group, with a draw and a win in their first two games. From a points perspective, it’s already their best showing in the group stages since 1982.
Up against a Saudi Arabia side riding high on confidence, they held their nerve and ground out an impressive 2-0 victory.
While Robert Lewandowski stole the headlines for scoring his first World Cup goal, Poland’s win would have been impossible with Wojcieh Szczęsny. The Juventus goalkeeper remained defiant in the face of a resurgent Saudi attack. He stopped Salem Aldawsari’s penalty in the first half and pulled off one of the saves of the tournament in keeping out the rebound that followed.
He is the only goalkeeper to have kept two clean sheets in the tournament so far. Messi and Co will have their work cut out against him.
The stakes are as high for Poland as they are for Argentina. It’s their best opportunity to make it into the knockout stages, a feat they haven’t achieved since 1986.
With one on the precipice of history and the other on the edge of ignominy, this final group game will be the ultimate test of Poland and Argentina’s mettle. Once again, for both sides, it will be no less than a World Cup final.