Lionel Messi’s Argentina, Mathew Leckie’s Australia, and Wojciech Tomasz Szczesny’s Poland all progressed to the Round of 16 in World Cup 2022.
Argentina defeated Poland 2-0 to win Group C and Poland advanced despite the loss on goal differential as they were one better than Mexico who defeated Saudi Arabia 2-1 and had ended with the same number of points. The highlight of the game was a penalty called against keeper Polish keeper, Szczesny, for grazing Messi’s head in an attempt to clear a cross. The ensuing penalty, taken by Messi, was saved by Szczesny who was the man of the match.
Saudi Arabia, after its fantastic opening match, came down from its high and simply played to its true potential which prior to the tourney had them leaving at the group stage. Had Mexico and Poland tied in goals too the tiebreaker was Fair Play Points–you are penalized for each yellow and red card earned, so the scoring is in negative numbers the higher your minus number the worse off you are. Poland would have won that head-to-head too.
Every team who progresses deep into the tournament needs some good fortune, and Argentina earned this win with some luck on the first goal, but its great good fortune is still to come as they are the beneficiaries of Denmark’s demise. The Albiceleste ranked third in the world get to play Australia (ranked 38th) instead of France, ranked fourth, in the Round of 16. Messi, whose influence in his team’s last group match was minimal still floated around the stadium lending his aura to the proceedings, making broadcast announcers swoon with his every breadth, and giving fans in and out of the booth a chance to celebrate his team’s progression.
Lionel Scaloni took a gamble today, using a handful of first-timers in his lineup, with a tactic of using a faster team against the lumbering Polacks—and it worked. Even with the simple objective of clearing their lines and denying the Argentines possession, the Europeans simply could not get to the ball as fast. In truth, there was much less incentive for Poland to do anything but allow a low-scoring loss since they were poised to progress regardless. It turned out closer than they would have projected, but in the end, both teams reached their objectives.
Australia into the Round of 16
Earlier in the day, Australia defeated Denmark 1-0 in Qatar’s 2022 World Cup, on a Mathew Leckie score, earning the second slot in their group and progressing to the knockout round, eliminating Denmark in the process. The back-to-back Aussie results (they defeated Tunisia 2-0 in their previous outing) are among the best Australian performances ever at a World Cup. While in the other Group D match Tunisia defeated France 1-0, but the result did not modify the current champions’ progress as the top team in the group.
Didier Deschamps decided to rest five of his starters but once his second-string team was showing an inability to cope with the Tunisians in came the stars. Unfortunately for France, it made no difference as they were off today, knowing the result would not modify their progression atop their group, while the Tunisians were playing for pride.
In the end, the string of emotional victories had to come to an end for Denmark. They are a good team but they had no steam left in them for this World Cup and Kasper Hjulmand’s men crashed out earlier than expected.
Photo: Australia’s Mathew Leckie, Shutterstock ID: 536464720, by mooinblack.