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5 talking points as Lionel Messi heroics rescue Argentina with strike vs Mexico

ARGENTINA 2-0 MEXICO: Goals from Lionel Messi and Enzo Fernandez secured a vital victory for Argentina to keep their World Cup hopes alive after a drab encounter

Stunning goals from Lionel Messi and Enzo Fernandez saw Argentina defeat Mexico and keep their World Cup hopes alive.

Lionel Scaloni’s side would have been eliminated from the competition had they lost this clash following their shock opening day defeat to Saudi Arabia, while Mexico themselves are now on the brink of an exit having been held to a scoreless draw by Poland in their opening game.

It was a first half which was wonderfully scrappy but devoid of any flair, creativity, rhythm or generally quality. It was dominated by sloppy passes, late challenges and nerves. The opening half produced no shots on target and 16 fouls.

Argentina improved after the break and won the game with the encounter’s only true moment of quality; Messi’s strike from outside the area beating Guillermo Ochoa and finding the corner of the net.

Scaloni’s side wrapped up the vital victory late on with a stunning strike from substitute Fernandez. Mirror Football analyses the five main talking points from an emotional clash at the Lusail Stadium.

Lionel Messi showed an outburst of emotion after opening the scoring for Argentina ( Image: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)

Lionel Messi will forever be remembered as one of the very greatest, if not the greatest, ever player in football. However, despite the superstar’s remarkable longevity of supremacy, he has not yet managed to replicate the level of achievements of the late, great Diego Maradona.

Maradona pulled his nation to a sensational World Cup triumph in 1986, with his legacy of propelling Napoli to their only ever two league titles in their history also ensuring that his level of achievement is unlikely to be surpassed.

This will be Messi’s last World Cup – he will be a 39-year-old by the time the 2026 edition comes around – and football’s most prized asset has continued to allude him. Nobody can doubt the star’s all-time status among the greats, yet glory on this stage would have been the ultimate crown in a stunning career. His dream lives on after his part in this clash.

Scaloni changes don’t pay off

Gonzalo Montiel was one of five changes made by Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni to his starting XI ( Image: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni made wholesale changes to his starting line-up from Argentina’s shock opening day loss against Saudi Arabia. Only one of those changes was enforced – as Lisandro Martinez replaced Cristian Romero in the heart of defence.

Scaloni changed both his full-backs with Sevilla pair Gonzalo Montiel and Marcos Acuna coming in, while Guido Rodriguez replaced Leandro Paredes at the base of the midfield while Brighton ’s Alexis MacAllister came in for Papu Gomez.

The changes appeared to have the adverse impact on Argentina, who had little rhythm to their play and regularly misplaced passes. It was a team who – for their standards and ambitions – was sorely lacking in quality and cohesion, despite ultimately winning.

Mexico passivity punished

Mexico were made to pay for not showing enough ambition against Argentina ( Image: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

This game was do-or-die for Argentina, who attracted the focus ahead of kick-off. They were, somewhat predictably, nervous and cagey in the opening half – unable to build attacks or enjoy any sustained pressure.

Yet Mexico could not take advantage of their opponent’s dithering, as despite being the better side and not allowing them time on the ball – they were not brave enough in attack. They failed to show any flair or create any goal-scoring opportunities despite the below-par showing from their opponents.

Gerardo Martino’s side are now facing the very real possibility of group stage elimination – ending their run of seven successive progressions through to the Round of 16 in the World Cup.

Fans surpass players

There was no shortage of colour and noise off the pitch between Argentina and Mexico ( Image: Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

This has been a World Cup which has been played to backdrops of stadiums with thousands of visibly empty seats with the majority of nations failing to bring sizable followings to fill out stadia. This was the first clash when there was not an empty seat to be seen in a truly special atmosphere between two of the most fervent fanbases in international football.

There was no pattern of play or rhythm to Argentina for the majority of the match and while there was little entertainment on the pitch, there was no shortage of noise, colour or passion off it. The majority of the players on the pitch were undeserving of the unbridled enthusiasm they received off it.

Mexico fail to end record

Mexico players were aiming to break their hoodoo against Argentina ( Image: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Despite these two nations being geographically close, they are kept apart in World Cup qualification matches due to their FA’s belonging to different federations. However, Argentina had been on a 10-game unbeaten run against Mexico – a run stretching back to 2004.

Indeed, Argentina had eliminated Mexico from each of the 2006 and 2010 World Cups at the Round of 16 stage, while they had won their last three meetings to nil – most recently, a 4-0 friendly triumph in 2019 when Lautaro Martinez netted a hat-trick.