Argentina 2 Mexico 0
Messi keeps Argentina's World Cup dreams alive
We came to see whether this would be Lionel Messi’s last dance and left with another cherished piece of choreography as, almost on his own, he kept Argentina in this World Cup.
Lose to Mexico and they were out. Lose to Mexico and Messi, 35-year-old magical Messi, would see his final chance of winning this trophy ended. Messi’s career would be missing what he must feel should be his by right of his unmatched talent.
“We had to rescue our World Cup,” Messi said afterwards, and he did just that. “We needed this euphoria… It seems like in the second-half we made our true debut.”
Lose and it would have been one of the most catastrophic campaigns in World Cup history for Argentina. Lose and they would have been eliminated the day after the second anniversary of Diego Maradona’s death.
The repercussions and soul-searching would have been endless and the relief was overwhelming. Former Argentina international Pablo Aimar, a coach, burst into tears.
They go on; Messi goes on. For at least one more tie – the final group game against Robert Lewandowski’s Poland when they will need another positive result. Argentina are far from assured of a place in the last 16 but the last dance continues; for Messi the music has not stopped just yet.
Despite a fine late strike to crucially double the advantage, from his assist, he had to do it was a solo dance. Argentina said they needed everyone but they knew who they would rely on.
Messi’s goal lifted the roof; he gave this World Cup a moment it wanted with a sumptuous, imperious finish, creating the space as only Messi does and beating the goalkeeper as only Messi does, with a brutal, elegant sweep of that left foot from outside the penalty area.
The way he celebrated, shaking his fists, roaring, showed just how much it meant; showed the tension he felt. As he stood taking the applause even some Mexican fans could not resist whipping out their camera phones.
But it was that kind of occasion inside this simply vast stadium which will host the final and where thousands came to pray at the Messi altar. In injury-time he turned one way and twisted another to take out two opponents before a third hauled him back. The free-kick was earned and row after row stood, bowing and chanting “Messi, Messi, Messi” as if hailing a matador and a Messiah.
Argentina arrived in Qatar on a formidable run of 36 games unbeaten and having won the Copa América, the first trophy for 28 years, at Brazil’s spiritual home, the Maracana Stadium. They were flying; then they were in freefall.
It made the shock of losing to Saudi Arabia in their opening game, their first defeat in three years, greater and added to the sense of jeopardy.
The atmosphere was even more febrile, the decibel levels driven ever higher. There were more Argentina shirts, for sure, but more noise coming from those wearing Mexican green as they sensed the vulnerability in front of them and whistled at every attempt by their opponents to retain possession. When Mexico kept the ball? Argentina were goaded with ‘olés’.
The challenges flew in. It was full-blooded, unforgiving and peppered with feigning and alleged elbows. Lines were being crossed. There was one, two, three, four dramatic rolls as Argentina’s Marcos Acuña was caught in a spiteful sliding tackle by Néstor Araújo – just to make sure he was booked.
Argentina looked afflicted by nerves; panicky in defence and constantly, relentlessly, looking for Messi. To just do something. Anything. Just get them through this and back on course although he was reduced to playing fight ball to try and win headers as Argentina umped it up in the air. Subtlety? There was little.
For an hour almost nothing happened. It was a game dominated by gamesmanship and Mexico were content with that. Damningly they were equally happy for Argentina to have the ball. As long as Messi stayed high up the pitch they could crowd him and block him and knew Argentina had very little else. Messi was a bystander, with his arms spread out betraying his wonder.
But then it changed. Messi dropped deep and demanded the ball. It suddenly spread panic. Mexico were retreating and the moment arrived and it came through a typical piece of shrewd movement as Messi cleverly held his run and was picked out by Ángel Di María with a square pass swept in from the right and across the face of the area. Twenty-two yards out, Messi allowed the ball to run across him, one deft touch – which made it - and then he drilled a low left foot shot that arced away and into the corner of the goal.
“Number 10 scored the goal and he does what he does,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said. “We have Leo.” The din of celebration was amazing. Utterly amazing. Scaloni immediately reacting by hauling of creative players, including Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister, and bringing on defenders. He was going to tough this one out but although Mexico made attacking changes it was Argentina who continued to threaten and they struck again with substitute Enzo Fernández almost surpassing Messi’s finish as bent a fierce right-foot shot high into the net.
At the end Messi went to the fans and conducted the singing. The dance continues. “We still have another game to play,” he said. “We still need to do it.”
Argentina (4-4-2): E Martinez 6; Montiel 5 (Molina, 63), Otamendi 5, Li Martinez 6, Acuna 6; Di Maria 7 (Romero, 69), Rodriguez 5 (Fernandez, 57), De Paul 5, MacAllister 6 (Palacios, 69); La Martinez 5 (Alvarez, 63), Messi 8.
Substitutes not used: Armani (gk), Rulli (gk), Foyth, Tagliafico, Paredes, Pezzella, Correa, Almada, Gomez, Dybala.
Mexico (5-3-2): Ochoa 5; K Alvarez 5 (Jimenez, 66), Araujo 6, Montes 6, Moreno 7, Gallardo 5; Herrera 6, Guardado 5 (Gutierrez, 42), Chavez 6; Lozano 6 (Alvarado, 73), Vega 7 (Antuna, 66).
Substitutes not used: Talavera (gk), Cota (gk), E Alvarez, Vasquez, Arteaga, Romo, Rodriguez, Funes Mori, Pineda, Sanchez, Martin.
Booked: Araujo, Herrera, Gutierrez, Alvarado.
Referee: Daniele Orsato (Italy).
Argentina 2 Mexico 0, as it happened
Gary Neville reacts
In the first half, I couldn’t see a way for Argentina in terms of the overall competition.
But I liked it when they went to five at the back, they did it at the start of the second half by dropping one of the midfield players in, but then they bought Romero on.
All of a sudden, they looked a lot more aggressive and the three in midfield had a lot more energy.
Roy Keane reacts
As these great players do when they get older, it’s all about moments and that bit of end product. We’ve talked about Messi and Ronaldo recently, the finish was brilliant, but other than that he [Messi] was very average.
But he produced that moment. He’s now got two goals in two games and considering people are saying he’s almost finished, you can’t write these players off.
Group C permutations
Poland only need a point vs Argentina
Argentina need to beat Poland to be certain of qualification
Saudi Arabia can still qualify if they beat Mexico
Mexico must beat Saudi Arabia and hope Argentina lose
Rate the players
Messi has to be the star man after that surely?
FULL TIME Argentina 2 Mexico 0
The Argentines are not going home yet. Inspired by their captain, Argentina are up to second in Group C.
90+3mins: Argentina 2 Mexico 0
Argentina are doing everything required to see this match out. This is a huge win for them.
90mins: Argentina 2 Mexico 0
Six minutes of time added on.
89mins: Argentina 2 Mexico 0
Yellow card for Alvarado after a foul on Otamendi.
All of a sudden the Mexican fans are very quiet.
87mins: Argentina 2 Mexico 0 GOAL
Short corner by Argentina. Fernandez picks up the ball and curls a stunning shot past Ochoa, who had no chance.
The scoreline flatters Argentina but they won't worry about that.
84mins: Argentina 1 Mexico 0
Mexico are having more possession but look like they have no idea how to break Argentina down.
79mins: Argentina 1 Mexico 0
Messi's 8th World Cup goal
His 13th Argentina goal in 2022
93rd international goal
788th senior career goal
76mins: Argentina 1 Mexico 0
As it stands, I can't see how Mexico will get back into this match. They are offering so little in attack. They've been very disappointing.
72mins: Argentina 1 Mexico 0
Lozano OFF, Alvarado ON
70mins: Argentina 1 Mexico 0
Mexico have been happy to sit deep but now they need to come out and play. But that could leave space behind them for Messi to exploit.
68mins: Argentina 1 Mexico 0
Double Argentina change:
Mac Allister & Di Maria OFF, Romero & Palacios ON
66mins: Argentina 1 Mexico 0
Double Mexico change:
K Alvarez & Vega OFF, Jimenez and Antuna ON
64mins: Argentina 1 Mexico 0 GOAL
Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Messi comes up with a bit of magic when his team needed it most.
He's standing in space on the edge of the box, he moves forward and drives a shot at goal which beats Ochoa and finds the bottom corner.
The Lusail Stadium erupts.
63mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Double Argentina change:
Montiel & Lautaro Martinez OFF, Molina & Alvarez ON
60mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
58mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Rodriguez OFF, Fernandez ON.
56mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Boos from the crowd as Acuna misplaces another pass.
54mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
A reminder that this Argentina squad came into the World Cup unbeaten in their last 36 matches.
51mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Messi, of course, takes it and it is over the bar. A free kick which sums up the quality of this game.
50mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
First moment of note in this half and the first time Messi goes on a bit of run.
He is hauled down by Gutierrez, who is booked. Free kick to Argentina in what is commonly known as "Lionel Messi territory."
Second Half: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
We're back underway. Surely it will get better?!
Rate the players
I wouldn't have anyone above a 5
Roy Keane is not happy
It is like watching a Championship match
HALF TIME: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Absolutely nothing noteworthy happened in those extra minutes.
Extremely disappointing half. 16 fouls, 4 shots.
45mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Five minutes of added time.
44mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
43mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Vega takes it and gets it on target but Martinez dives in the air and catches the ball. He made that look very easy.
42mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Gutierrez gets on the ball straight way and is clattered into by Montiel, who is booked.
Free-kick in a dangerous position for Mexico.
40mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Guardado OFF, Gutierrez ON
39mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Di Maria crosses into the box after a short corner and Lautaro Martinez heads wide. Should have done better.
36mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
If only the quality on the pitch was as good as the atmosphere in the stands.
It has not been a good match so far.
34mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
... and he shoots at goal. Ochoa punches the ball into the air and as he looks to gather it, he is fouled by Lisandro Martinez.
33mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Vega lunges in with two feet and fouls De Paul on the far side. Messi to take the free kick...
29mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Neither side can claim to have control of this match.
Mexico look threatening on the counter attack while Argentina are playing very passively.
Lautaro Martinez has barely had a touch so far.
25mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
First period of sustained possession for Argentina. The ball is played wide to Montiel but his cross goes out of play.
22mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Araujo is booked for a heavy tackle on Acuna on the far side.
20mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
The free kick is taken short and then Mexico clip the ball into the box which is well handled by Martinez.
19mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Free kick around 40 yards out for Mexico after Otamendi brings down Lozano.
15mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Lisandro Martinez has made a good start for Argentina in their back line. As strong and aggressive as we've seen for Manchester United this season.
11mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
No efforts on goal yet but it's been a highly competitive opening to the match.
Argentina do look more nervous and hesitant though.
9mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Montiel takes out Lozano with a heavy tackle. From the resulting free kick, the ball travel a long way but no one in a green shirt is able to get a touch on it.
5mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Montiel is caught in the face by Vega and goes down. The Argentines want a red card but there's hardly anything in it at all.
4mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Atmosphere is incredible. So loud. Mexico and Argentina are two of the most passionate fans you will get.
2mins: Argentina 0 Mexico 0
Rate the players:
Kick Off: Argentina vs Mexico
We are under way!
A reminder of the starting XI's
Argentina: E Martinez, Montiel, Otamendi, Lisandro Martinez, Acuna, De Paul, Rodriguez, Di Maria, Messi, Mac Allister, Lautaro Martinez.
Mexico: Ochoa, Montes, Araujo, Moreno, K Alvarez, Herrera, Guardado, Chavez, Gallardo, Lozano, Vega.
Here come the teams
Messi leads out his team-mates to an incredible atmosphere at the Lusail Stadium.
Group C as it stands
Poland 4 points
Saudi Arabia 3 points
Mexico 1 point
Argentina 0 points
Former Man Utd defender Danny Higginbotham on where the match will be won and lost
Lautaro Martinez speaks ahead of the match
It will be like a final for us because it is a match that could define our faith in this World Cup. It was a heavy blow to our morale (losing to Saudi Arabia) but we are a strong group that is very united.
We need to stay calm, recover and think about what's coming. And what's coming is Mexico, so we have to focus on getting the win no matter what.
The equation is simple...
... Messi and Argentina must not lose!
Rodriguez's incredible strike for Argentina against Mexico in 2006
How do you think this one will play out tonight?
Send us your score predictions and comment below.
This one's at the Lusail Stadium tonight
Argentina return to the scene of Tuesday's defeat. Coverage is on ITV.
This was two hours ago...
Unpacking the team news: FIVE changes for Argentina
Lionel Scaloni makes five changes to thew Argentina side that lost to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Guido Rodriguez and Alexis Mac Allister come into midfield and Marcos Acuna, Gonzalo Montiel and Lisandro Martinez slot into the defence, but he's kept faith with the strike force of Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria and Lautaro Martinez.
Mexico, who scraped a goalless draw with Poland in their opener, drop forward Henry Martin but stick with Hirving Lozano and Alexis Vega up front.
Tata Martino brings in defenders Kevin Alvarez and Nestor Araujo along with midfielder Andres Guardado, but again opts against starting forward Raul Jimenez.
Tom Morgan meets a couple with split ties tonight
Mexico's starting XI
Mexico: Guillermo Ochoa, Nestor Araujo, Cesar Montes, Alexis Vega, Hector Moreno, Hector Herrera, Andres Guardado, Hirving Lozano, Jesus Gallardo, Luis Chavez, Kevin Alvarez.
Team news: Argentina's starting XI
Argentina: Emiliano Martinez, Gonzalo Montiel, Rodrigo De Paul, Marcos Acuna, Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, Guido Rodriguez, Nicolas Otamendi, Alexis Mac Allister, Lautaro Martinez, Lisandro Martinez.
Argentina coach says they will "break their backs" to turn things around
Argentina must avoid defeat to Mexico tonight if they are to keep qualification to the last 16 in their own hands following their shock 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia on the third day of the tournament.
It will be the fourth World Cup meeting between these sides – 1930, 2006 and 2010 the previous encounters – with Argentina coming out on top in all three occasions.
Manager Lionel Scaloni invoked the spirit of Diego Maradona, the man who captained his country to success in 1986 and who passed away two years ago this week.
"Tomorrow we hope to bring some joy for Maradona, who will be looking down at us from the sky. That will be the most important thing for us.
"We might receive a blow like on the opening match but we know we need to stick to our guns. We have a style that is non-negotiable.
"We will always break our backs until the last second we are on the pitch so we can reverse this initial situation."
After not qualifying in 1970, Argentina have only failed to advance out of the group stages of the World Cup once, in the South Korea and Japan edition in 2002 where they got a win and a draw but it wasn't enough to progress with Sweden and England both finishing on five points.
Mexico's manager Gerardo Martino was born in Rosario – the home city of Lionel Messi, who had a quiet game in the loss to Saudi Arabia – 180 miles from Buenos Aires, and was a former team-mate of Maradona at Newell's Old Boys.
However, he insists he has no divided loyalties as he prepares to face the country of his birth.
"If you were in my place what would you do? Mexico has to win, we hope Mexico win," he said.
"I can tell you the place, the characteristics of my city, the hospital where I was born, but I work for Mexico and I want to win the game.
"We have to think Messi will show his best version. Sometimes even without being on top of your game for 90 minutes in five minutes everything can happen."