World Cup 2022: Messi’s Argentina survive despite penalty miss

Argentina win Group C after beating Poland 2-0

Lionel Messi. Robert Lewandowski. It was supposed to be a clash of titans and what a thrilling all-be-it-one-sided game it turned out to be. It was a top-of-the-table clash in Group C, with two proud footballing nations fighting it out to make the knockout stages. The wider context, and particularly important for anyone that has ever written ‘Penaldo’ in the comments section, is that this could have been Lionel Messi’s final ever World cup match, in what would be an almost singular disappointment in one of the greatest careers this sport has ever seen. 

As things stood in the beginning, all four countries could have made it. Messi was instrumental in Argentina’s recovery from their shock defeat to Saudi Arabia to beat Mexico, scoring one of the great World Cup goals. Poland would have qualified with a draw or a win. What a huge achievement that would have been for Robert Lewandowski and co, who had flickered and stuttered to lead the Group before kickoff.

But after kickoff, there was just one team playing football. Argentina completely shut down Poland to dominate the game from start to finish. Poland managed to finish the game without a shot on target to Argentina’s 12. It was also in many ways Messi’s match to win. Despite missing a shocking penalty, he had a string of passes and 5 big chances created for his team.

Indeed this felt like an away game for Poland with a sea of blue and white supporters completely overtaking the 974 stadium.

The game had a positive start for Argentina whose corner from Messi failed to beat the first man but a cross comes in at the second attempt, where Otamendi beat Bereszynski at the back post, but can only glance his attempt wide.

In the 10-minute mark, an almost carbon copy of the goal against Mexico where Di Maria picked out Messi on the edge of the box was about to happen. The little man stung the palms of Szczesny, who turned it behind for a corner. Messi then found the rampaging Acuna, and the left back cut back inside onto his weaker right and blazed his shot over the bar. 

Poland became more and more entrenched. Lewandowski, a lone figure up top, had little service only getting hopeful balls loosely in his direction. It was Argentina in full assault.

Szczesny then denied Alvarez. A brilliant ball from Mac Allister releases his Premier League counterpart and the Manchester City striker crashed his shot towards the far post. Szczesny stuck out a left hand with a great save. Alvarez collected the rebound and crossed to the far post but the ball gets glanced at by Messi. On the ball’s way out, Szczeny made a blunder he brushed up against Messi giving out a soft penalty.

But still, it was a disaster for the Argentina captain as Szczesny made up for his foul, diving wonderfully to his left to deny Messi. By Messi’s standards, it was a poor penalty. Struck well enough but a good height for Szczesny. That said, the Juventus keeper did well to read it, and sent the rebound safely away.

That miss would have been an absolute disaster for Messi, who seemed perfectly capable as a playmaker, but unable to get his shooting boots.

But, the second half would bring happier news. 60 seconds after the restart was time for a massive goal by the Brighton midfielder, Mac Allister. Molina got to the byline and cut the ball back where Mac Allister was waiting – the 23-year-old didn’t make a clean connection as he swept it with his right foot, but the direction was perfect and just kissed the far post after passing Szczesny.

Messi continued to set off on many dribbles, picking out through balls, taking his chances and running into defenders. But it was Enzo Fernandez who would be instrumental in Argentina’s second goal. He drove at the defence and found Alvaraz, who took a touch, swivelled and blasted a rocket into the top corner. A brilliant, instinctive finish. 

The final chance of the game would come for Lautaro Martinez. He’s sent clean through on goal but dragged his shot woefully wide.

No matter, Argentina qualify top of the group and Poland come in second due to goal difference. Poland owe Szczesny for their qualification. The goalkeeper made a string of excellent saves – not least from Messi’s penalty 

Argentina will play Australia and Poland will face France.

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