Lionel Scaloni’s side headed into Wednesday night’s Group C decider at Stadium 974 in Doha needing a win to make sure of their place in the last 16 having rebounded from that historic upset by Saudi Arabia to defeat Mexico on Saturday night.
And it looked as if they had the perfect chance to take the lead shortly before the break after dominating the first-half exchanges against Robert Lewandowski and below-par Poland but struggling to find a way past goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
After a leaping Messi had headed a difficult cross well wide at the back post, Juventus’ Szczesny brushed the face of the Paris Saint-Germain superstar with his glove.
Dutch referee Danny Makkelie did not give a penalty initially, but overturned his decision after being instructed by the VAR to consult the pitchside monitor and watching the incident again in critical slow motion.
Messi saw his subsequent spot-kick saved by Szczesny, with many feeling that justice was done after a hugely controversial decision.
“The penalty decision is disgraceful,” blasted former England defender Rio Ferdinand, working for the BBC as a pundit on the game in Qatar.
“This isn’t what VAR has been brought in for. He’s flicked his eyelash for starters and the fact that the ref goes over to look at it... I think that’s an outrageous decision that has been made here. He barely touches him.”
Fellow pundit Alan Shearer concurred, saying: “That’s never a penalty.”
Argentina would go on to take the lead shortly after the interval against Poland, with Brighton playmaker Alexis Mac Allister turning home Nahuel Molina’s cross.