In Qatar’s 2022 World Cup, in Lusail Stadium, where the cup final is to be played in December, Argentina’s Lionel Messi scored in the 64th minute, a beauty from outside the box about twenty-five yards out, low, powerful, and perfectly placed next to the post, to Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa’s left and just out of his reach—golazo! And that in effect was the game as all that ensured thereafter was window dressing to the deciding moment of the match delivered by one of our sport’s greats in a match which had otherwise not gone particularly well for him or his coach, Lionel Scaloni.
Mexico played a perfect first half blocking most of Argentina’s attack and having a few chances themselves, but in the second half they seemed to lose steam and purpose and slowly the desperate Argentines took over possession and with it a few extra chances. But most importantly, Mexico fizzled on attack with only Hirving Lozano proving any concern for the Argentine defense. When he left in the second half, Mexico had but a few worthy attacking opportunities the rest of the way.
For Tata Martino, Mexico’s Argentine coach, the Group C result must have tasted bitter-sweet as his nation won but his team lost. The Tri did not play poorly even in their lackluster second half, but they did commit, as did Schmeichel against France in Mbappe’s second goal earlier in the day, fundamental mistakes, the type no professional can be excused for making.
When Messi got the ball from Angel di Maria, who was on the right wing, the ball rolled, uncontested, about 25 yards. Then, when the Argentine striker received it, he was so open he could trap, push the ball forward, line himself up, and, when he was good and ready, take a shot. You don’t need to be a Messi to score if you are given that much uncontested time to shoot.
The second goal, a cherry on top as it was not needed other than for Argentina’s goal differential, was the product of another childish mistake by the Mexican defense. Argentine substitute, Enzo Fernandez, was allowed to dribble into the Mexican penalty area without challenge and then swivel to position himself to take a classic curler to the opposite post, which he did again without challenge, for the easy put-away.
Now, with three points and a game against Poland ahead, Argentina can progress with a win. Poland tops the group with four points and a plus-two-goal differential, followed by Argentina with three points and a +1-goal differential, Saudi Arabia with three points and a minus-one-goal differential, and finally, Mexico with one point and a -2-goal differential. If Poland or Argentina win, they will progress. If Saudi Arabia win, they will progress. Those are the easy scenarios. Then, if Poland and Argentina draw, Poland progresses with either Saudi Arabia if they win or Mexico if they win by a four-goal difference. If both games end as draws Poland progresses as the top team and Argentina as the second from their group.
Photo: Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Shutterstock ID: 1437545375, by A.PAES