Lionel Messi and Argentina are not going anywhere yet.
After Argentina’s shock 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia in the Group C opener, La Albiceleste would have been eliminated from the knockout battle with a loss to Mexico, who entered the game with a point after a 0-0 draw against Poland.
But Argentina are now back in the thick of the action in Group C with a 2-0 win over El Tri thanks to two goals in the second half.
Surprisingly, Mexican manager Gerard “Tata” Martino opted for a 5-3-2 formation that went against his usual system, but a back five offered more defensive safety against Messi and Co.
Argentina started off with a 4-2-3-1 with Messi playing central in a free role, but it gradually turned into a 3-4-3 with the fullbacks holding more width to stretch Mexico’s backline and defending Messi and Ángel Di Maria to give extra space to move inside.
However, Mexico’s 5-1-2-2 center block effectively ended Argentina’s build-up play as the full-backs and central midfielders couldn’t find the passing lanes to get the ball to their makers, and it led to Alexis Vega El Tri what gave. attacking their best moments.
The first half ended in a 0–0 draw with Argentina having possession 68% of the time, but it only resulted in one shot not hitting the target.
Now at the beginning of the second half it was more of the same for Argentina. It just couldn’t string enough passes to create a chance, but it helped that Mexico played for the long ball/second ball tactic that cleared La Albiceleste whenever Vega or Hirving “Chucky” Lozano tried to run.
Finally, in the 64th minute, Messi broke the deadlock with a low shot into the bottom right corner from outside the box that went beyond Guillermo Ochoa’s reach to make it 1–0.
Mexico then became more aggressive on its offense in an attempt to find the equalizer after Poland’s victory over the Green Falcons earlier on Saturday, but El Tri was out of luck.
In the 87th minute, 21-year-old Enzo Fernández announced himself on the world stage with a beautiful curling stroke after coming on as a substitute in the 57th minute.
Argentina ended the game with five shots, two of which hit the target – and both were goals. Mexico had four with only one on target, and now it’s all to play for on Wednesday.
La Albiceleste will take on Poland and Mexico versus Saudi Arabia as all four teams are mathematically in contention for a top-two finish to progress to the round of 16.