Poland 0 Argentina 2
Argentina top group with beaten Poland also squeezing through
By Sam Wallace
Poland has waited since 1986 to make the second round of the World Cup finals, and in the final 20 minutes of this last game in Group C they had to anticipate any number of ways that Fifa processes and Fifa systems might rob them of that achievement.
There had been a penalty given against them in the first half on the basis of a Var review that appeared to be based on a set of laws hitherto undisclosed by the governing body. Then in the last stages of the game at Doha’s Stadium 974, Poland found themselves two goals down and neck-and-neck for that second place with Mexico, who were winning 2-0 against Saudi Arabia in the other Group C game across town at the Lusail.
It meant that both nations had, at that point, identical records: one win, one draw, one defeat and two goals for and against. A place in the second round, against defending champions France, would come down to which side had picked up the fewest yellow cards. That was Poland with five to Mexico’s seven, and suddenly the game was operating in lots of different dimensions. Poland could not concede, but they also had to ration their yellow cards.
It was, to put it mildly, a challenge for their coach Czesław Michniewicz, a cheerful soul. He chose to substitute Grzegorz Krychowiak after his booking as a second yellow for the midfielder – and a red – would have counted as three cards and put Poland behind Saudi on bookings. This was when a close reading of the Fifa handbook came in handy.
“The rules have been clear from the start,” Michniewicz would say later. His staff were keeping track of events at the Lusail and a tally of bookings. Even so, Michniewicz said, “my heart skipped a beat when Grzegorz was booked.”
Poland had survived a terrible penalty decision by the Dutch referee Danny Makkelie in the first half, on the advice of his Var Pol van Boekol. Wojciech Szczesny’s glove flapped across the face of Lionel Messi as the Poland goalkeeper reached for a cross, and that was enough. That febrile atmosphere surrounding decisions concerning the big stars of the World Cup is one of those fertile grounds for conspiracy theories and the more there are, one can only wonder.
Szczesny saved that penalty from Messi in the first half but he could do nothing about the goals in the second half from two Premier League players, Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister and Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez. Argentina had won the group, and a place in the second round against the surprise Group D runners-up Australia. Poland were clinging on, calculating yellow cards and measuring risk against risk.
The final whistle went with Poland still unsure as to their destiny. What was the Mexican yellow card situation? An unusual question to be asking but pertinent until Saudi’s Salem Aldawsari scored to make it 2-1 in the Lusail Stadium. Mexico’s goal difference was one goal worse off and Poland were through to play France. Michniewicz was able to rhapsodise about the great Poland teams of 1974 and 1982 and tried to wind up the press conference to take a call from the Polish Prime Minister.
Argentina had dominated the game. They had 24 attempts on goal, and 13 on target. Poland by contrast, had not a single attempt on target. It was a long night for Robert Lewandowski. As for Argentina, that defeat to Saudi Arabia in the first game felt a distant memory. Lionel Scaloni was polite about Australia in the aftermath. “The passion when you play for your nation is strong,” he said, “no-one should be underestimated.”
Even so, it is an excellent draw for Argentina, and their famous No 10 chasing the last great trophy of his career. Scaloni was asked if he considered substituting Messi towards the end. “I’d only do that if he told me to,” Scaloni replied.
The drama at the end was one thing - but the penalty was another bad moment for Fifa. Makkelie, one of Uefa’s favourites, is a contender to take charge of the final next month. The assumption might be that once he was summoned to the monitor to check his decision, the on-field referee thought that resisting Var might be politically inopportune.
Szczesny had simply followed the cross from Alvarez to the back post and the contact between his glove and Messi’s face was after the header from the No 10 had already missed the target. In the pre-Var era there would not even have been a case to answer.
Szczesny saved it brilliantly – guessing the correct side, down to his left but even then the height was difficult. Lewandowski was isolated in attack. The game was controlled by Enzo Fernandez, Mac Allister and Rodrigo De Paul in the Argentina midfield.
Lewandowski, one of the greatest modern goalscorers, was asked to play the Kieffer Moore role with the ball fired up to him and the challenge to hold on to it as long as was possible. Michniewicz was perplexed at the criticism of his team’s approach by Polish reporters. Had they not got the job done?
Having held out for the first half the goals came quickly. First a cross from Nahuel Molina, a full-back at Atletico Madrid, was met first time by Mac Allister. Then Alvarez took the pass pushed through from Fernandez and beat Szczesny with the power of his shot. It was a case of Poland holding out and watching their bookings.
Argentina vs Poland, as it happened
Messi was astounding this evening
Another day, another towering performance for Messi, who grows closer and closer to matching the stature of Argentina's eternal hero, Maradona. Does it get boring, going on and on about his brilliance? Possibly, if you're detached from it, but watch him perform like he did today, and all irritation ebbs away.
He was masterful for Argentina today, controlling play across all aspects of the game, and his team-mates seemed to rise to the occasion for him. You can understand the determination the team has to win this World Cup for him, to put him level in the country's eyes with Maradona, should there be any doubt.
Round of 16: Groups C & D
With all winners and runners up confirmed, this is what we can look forward to this weekend:
December 3: Argentina v Australia, 7pm
December 4: Poland v France, 3pm
These fixtures join the already-confirmed Netherlands v USA, on December 3 at 3pm, and England v Senegal on December 4, at 7pm.
Astonishing Lionel Messi penalty decision another farcical Var intervention
The three most contentious penalty awards during this World Cup read as follows: two for Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and one for Lionel Messi’s Argentina. It is almost as if there is an attempt to keep the two biggest names in the tournament.
Of course that is a tongue-in-cheek statement that belongs to conspiracy theorists, social media and those, if serious, who want to risk being sued for libel. It just cannot be true. But they were, let’s just say, odd.
Seriously, though, each of those decisions has given the use of the Var, already an acronym which fiercely divides opinion, a bad name. Or a worse one. It has not been a good World Cup for those strangely kitted people in their full refereeing uniforms, the same as those worn on the pitch in the video operations room.
Jason Burt looks at the controversial first half penalty in more detail here.
Another stunning Szczesny statistic
2 - Wojciech Szczesny is only the second goalkeeper on record (since 1966) to save a penalty at the World Cup after conceding it himself, after Joel Bats for France against Brazil in 1986. Forgiven. #POLARG pic.twitter.com/vSx7ZQnTQT
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) November 30, 2022
Man of the hour
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Full time Poland 0 Argentina 2
Poland were woeful, and with France to play in the Round of 16, will need to make wholesale changes and attack the game if they hope to have any chance of squeaking out through the knockout stages.
Argentina, by contrast, served up their best performance of the competition. They were connected, competent, and driven by the unrivalled brilliance of Messi. Next up, Australia, and in form, they look hard to bet against.
As it stands in Group C
Argentina - 6pts
Poland - 4pts
Mexico - 4pts
Saudi Arabia - 3pts
Argentina tops the group after their sticky start, Poland progress by a one-goal difference, and Mexico miss out – as they would have done, if things had come down to disciplinary records.
The whistle blows: POLAND PROGRESS TO THE ROUND OF 16
Mexico have a free kick late on, but the goalkeeper Al Owais is fouled whilst making the save.
Back in Education City, the Polish players are jubilant: they're through!
Mexico are a good way through their seven minutes of extra time
We fly magically to Lusail, where in a late spell of quality, Al Dawsari plays one-two with Bahebri, and scores Saudi Arabia's first!
Poland now lead Mexico for that runner-up spot by a one-goal difference.
90+6 min: Poland 0 Argentina 2
Jeers and whistles from the crowd, after Lewandowski bullies Messi in the centre circle and wins the ball off him.
Argentina are playing as if they need to wind down the clock, and don't get the chance to land a final blow to lacklustre Poland.
The whistle blows! But what happens next!
90+4 min: Poland 0 Argentina 2
Corner defended well, Poland work on pushing Argentina back, if only to the halfway line.
Almada goes for the break now, but sliding Polish defence whip the ball away and win a throw in just over the halfway marker.
90+2 min: Poland 0 Argentina 2
Argentina pop the ball around on the edge of the box, biding their time before another strike.
Messi cuts through the pack, looking for Tagliafico, who runs to chip the ball over a streaking Szczesny. It looks destined for the goal, but Kiwior heads the ball off the line heroically for an Argentina corner.
90 min: Poland 0 Argentina 2
How much added time for Poland's limbo? An agonising six minutes, which in Qatar, feels almost a relief, having seen the ease with which ten extra minutes are tacked on to the 90 at this World Cup.
89 min: Poland 0 Argentina 2
Poland win a free kick just over the halfway line in another moment of reprieve for the beleaguered side. They look very weary, none more than Lewandowski, who has been utterly isolated all evening.
87 min: Poland 0 Argentina 2
Poland cling to possession, before flying the ball into Argentina's half. But it doesn't come down off a Polish head, and within moments, Argentina have control once again.
Poland sit deep, as De Paul looks to set up Messi, who plays to Paredes on the left, looking for an outlet.
85 min: Poland 0 Argentina 2
Poland win a free kick on the halfway line, but push the ball back to the backline, holding onto possession. They have been very meek in this second half.
A moment of extreme sloppiness sees Martinez wrench the ball from Kiwior and run the ball towards the goal. His finish is imperfect, however, and it flies past a leaping Szczesny at the far post.
83 min: Poland 0 Argentina 2
Messi sneaks past his man, looking to cause trouble on the edge of the box, but the ball is defended handily to Szczesny.
Two more changes, one per team: Mac Allister is replaced by Almada, and Krychowiak is replaced by Piatek.
80 min: Poland 0 Argentina 2
If Poland level Mexico's disciplinary record, we'll start looking at head-to-head records. Of course, Poland and Mexico drew...
Molina picks up the ball to the right of Poland's box, but sends the ball over for a smoother route through the left. The box is crammed with Poland players, as they work hard to keep Argentina from their third, which looks more and more likely.
78 min: Poland 0 Argentina 2
Mac Allister looks for a run down the left, but is brought down by Krychowiak, who receives a yellow card.
This puts Poland's total at five to Mexico's seven.
Two changes for Argentina now, Fernandez and Alvarez off for Pezzella and Lautaro Martinez.
Alvarez's stunning second
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) November 30, 2022
76 min: Poland 0 Argentina 2
Argentina are entirely in the driving seat, leaving Poland to lock up and try and behave well to ensure progression.
Not that they know that, of course.
73 min: Poland 0 Argentina 2
Another peach of a chance for Argentina, after Messi picks up a running Alvarez in the centre of the pack to bullet a sliding pass in front of him. Running clear of his marker, he gets the shot away, but it skims past the post.
Change for Poland has taken place, Bereszynski swapped for Jedrzejczyk.
70 min: Poland 0 Argentina 2
Messi sneaks a chance, a shot which he barrels into Szczesny at close range. But the keeper makes the save, keeping the sword of Damocles a little bit higher over Poland's head.
Mexico have seven yellow cards, to Poland's four, by the way.
As it stands now, in Group C
So, here we are: Mexico and Poland are level on points, and they're level on goal difference.
Poland will progress as it stands on disciplinary record: they have fewer yellow cards than Mexico.
Knife's edge doesn't cover it.
67 min: GOAL! Poland 0 Argentina 2
Argentina continue to look impressively dominant. Poland have had even less of a sniff of attack than they had in the first, which feels faintly unbelievable.
And they get a well-deserved goal! It's Alvarez, who receives a cute cut-through pass in the box which he rockets past Szczesny!
Things do not look good for Poland's progression hopes.
64 min: Poland 0 Argentina 1
Poland muddle a pass and Messi capitalises, streaking into the Poland half. The ball is defended out well, but Argentina profit from the corner, taken short as Argentina toy with the idea of a second goal.
61 min: Poland 0 Argentina 1
Messi picks up an excellent ball on the run to feed in to Mac Allister, but he can't strike the shot cleanly, and Szczesny can easily dip to make the save.
Another change, this time for Poland: Bielik exits for Szymanski.
Telegraph Sport's refereeing expert, Keith Hackett, on Argentina's penalty
I am amazed that a referee who is a strong contender to take charge of the World Cup final could have come up with such a poor decision as the one that gave Argentina their first-half penalty.
Danny Makkelie has been a Fifa listed referee since 2011 and the 39-year-old Dutchman has impressed in many of the high-profile games at which he has officiated, including earlier group games at these finals.
However. I believe this controversy might well have cost him the chance of being appointed for the final on Dec 18.
His initial inclination was that Wojciech Szczesny had fairly attempted to flick away a cross as Argentina's Lionel Messi ran in for a header and had seen no foul. Such a move by Szczesny is part and parcel of being a goalkeeper.
You can see Makkelie had been put under pressure by Var to go over to the pitchside monitor and it was inevitable he would change his mind.
But it was patently the wrong call.
Justice was served when Messi's spot kick was saved. That may have got Makkelie out of jail but it has probably cost him the final too.
59 min: Poland 0 Argentina 1
Changes for Argentina, Di Maria comes off for Paredes, and Acuna is swapped for Tagliafico.
57 min: Poland 0 Argentina 1
Lewandowski plots a route in the Argentina half, before setting up Kaminski to play out to the right. But they can't work through Argentina, who are really flying now, imbued with confidence from their goal early in the half.
55 min: Poland 0 Argentina 1
Di Maria dances down the right wing, before looking for Messi on the edge of the box. His control is pitch-perfect, but he's swarmed by defenders swinging into action.
There's another goal for Mexico, which doesn't change much, but does shrink the goal difference. Mexico are now one goal behind Poland. Should Poland concede, or Mexico score another, Poland's chances of progression would be in real trouble.
Messi lines up to send a flier towards goal, but Cash pulls off a forbidding block.
53 min: Poland 0 Argentina 1
Kiwior is tackled aggressively by De Paul, but he gets on to the ball, so Poland can only wince with empathetic pain for their toppled team-mate.
Messi on the run heads towards the box, looking to break through, but he's tumbled before he can get the shot away. He comes again, but is pursued hotly by Glik and Kiwior.
50th min: Poland 0 Argentina 1
In Lusail, Mexico too have broken the deadlock. They are 1-0 up against Saudi Arabia, with Henry Martin the goalscorer.
This is better news for Poland, now second in the group, who, unless Mexico score three or more, will progress with a Mexican victory.
48 min: Poland 0 Argentina 1
This means that Argentina now top their group, in a turn up for the books after that catastrophic opening defeat against Saudi Arabia.
Poland win a free kick from the right which is loped in by Zielinski. Glik gets his head to it, but the chance glances wide.
46 min: GOAL! Poland 0 Argentina 1
A mere 60ish seconds into the second half, and Argentina have their breakthrough! Molina sends through a long, flat cross to Mac Allister in box, who powers the ball into the Polish net!
Poland are ambushed, and now have to rise to the occasion to fight back against the early challenge of the half.
There are some changes in the break for Poland: Swiderski and Frankowski are off, for Kaminski and Skoras.
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As things stand at half time
Very little change, due to absence of goals, but all four teams will have a point if they draw, which means:
Poland - 5pts
Argentina - 4pts
Saudi Arabia - 4pts
Mexico - 2pts
Poland can only miss out on progression if they lose, and Saudi Arabia beats Mexico by some margin. They can top their group with a win, or a draw, should the other result go their way too.
If things stay goalless in Lusail, then Argentina progress, but again, they would fear a Saudi victory. Saudi can progress with a stonking win against Mexico, should Argentina lose or draw.
All to play for, which feels exciting, but if these matches remain goalless, that excitement might only just begin to ebb away.
Not the most inspiring half for either side, although Poland have been entirely toothless and Argentina can at least lay claim to a handful of strong chances. But they've had moments of error-strewn play too, and the nil-nil score line feels fair.
That being said, we can expect a far bigger shake-up from Poland, who will have to try something new to see anything of Argentina's half as they add ruthlessness to their second half to ensure progression.
45+3 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Argentina look to set up another attack, but reaching the edge of Poland's box, the whistle blows!
Nothing between them, nor their Group C compatriots: Saudi Arabia and Mexico are goalless too.
45+2 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Trying to make some attacking headway, Krychowiak is tumbled some yards over the halfway line in the Argentina half, for a Polish free kick. It is booted, and really flies, way, way past his team-mates waiting to run, for Martinez to gather up the ball.
45 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Acuna stretches his leg, star-jump style, to try and get on the end of a diagonal ball which streaks over the penalty area, but can't quite reach it.
Three minutes of added time, which feels light. But perhaps this competition has skewed us, somewhat.
43 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Nail-biting times for Poland as Szczesny comes under fire again, this time making a save off a rocketed ball at close range, but worse still, he falters with the ball, and has to gather it up in a second save.
Cash steps in for the next attempt, the ball defended out only as far as Di Maria, who sends in a tame shot which Szczesny can wrap himself around with ease.
41 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Szczesny saved that one right-handed, by the by. Superbly done. But Argentina will not let up, and Messi sends a ball streaking across the goalface in desperate need of a toe poke.
He comes again, this time from the right, but the box is clogged up with bullish Poland defenders.
39 min: PENALTY SAVED! Poland 0 Argentina 0
Szczesny has saved one penalty in this tournament already, and he makes another! He gets his thinking spot on and punches the effort out for a corner.
Little comes of it, bar some chaos. This feels like karmic retribution, for the lightest of penalty challenges.
37 min: PENALTY CHECK! Poland 0 Argentina 0
Alvarez breaks at warp speed, streaking to collect a running Mac Allister's ball, and forcing Szczesny to make the save. On the second attempt as the ball glances out, Szczesny makes another save, his hands clipping Messi as he falls.
Messi stays down, and there's a Var check. After a few moments, the referee runs over to the monitor. It doesn't look like much to me. A light clip entirely by accident which sees him make the save, but the check goes on and on.
34 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
De Paul sends in the next effort, which is defended briskly, and Poland can take comfort only in pushing Argentina back to their own half for a few moments.
Having worked his way in, De Paul on the edge of the box looks to set up Mac Allister, and wins a corner instead. It's played short, and then Alvarez whips in a curling ball square on goal, which Szczesny deals with promptly.
32 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Worse still, when Poland do get the chance to break, smaller and smaller mistakes, misplayed passes and the like, trip them out, and place things back in Argentina's hands.
Argentina win a corner which Szczesny palms behind the goal at the far post and out for another one.
30 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Poland clog up their penalty area, gumming together the Argentina attack and forcing their forwards into retreat. Messi picks up the ball on the edge of the box after finding a minuscule gap, and hunts for Acuna, but Cash steps in for another flash of defensive brilliance.
That being said, Argentina have Poland entirely on the backfoot.
28 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Excellent chance from Argentina, then another! First it's Alvarez who picks up a well-cut shot destined for the corner of the net which is blocked frantically, and then Acuna has a go with the rebound, sending his effort just wide of the far post.
The noise levels raise exponentially: Argentina are closer and closer here.
26 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Lewandowski goes hurtling after a long ball, an isolated figure in the Argentina half, but his sole companion is his Argentina marker, who brings the ball down under his control.
As Poland look for another break, Otamendi puts in a fearless tackle on Frankowski, getting the ball but skittling the man in the process.
24 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
The corner is taken short, as Messi finds himself in the box waiting for a cross. Acuna looks for him, but can't find a way through.
Argentina are looking remarkably complacent, not rushing the ball, unbothered by Poland's pressure, not yet at full tilt. Molina concedes a free kick, however, after tumbling Frankowski.
22 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Zielinski takes the corner, which is defended well by Alvarez out to Zielinski on the edge of the box. He looks for Glik in the box, but can't find him with the ball.
Swiderski intercepts a lazy Argentina pass, but immediately they win back possession, clustered high up in Poland's half, and begin looking for a route through. Cash blocks the ball out for a lefthanded corner, which Di Maria sets up to take.
20 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Cash streaks down the right, making the first leggy break for Poland, but is shut down quickly, winning a free kick off the ensuing tumble. The ball curves in from about 30 yards out, but Poland can do little with it.
They have, however, made ground in Argentina's half, and another battle with Cash at the corner flag, ball glancing off an Argentina player, wins Poland a corner.
18 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Bereszynski beats his man in a foot race for a long ball from Krychowiak, but muddles the ball out of play in the process. Di Maria looks for Messi in the box, having been set up by De Paul, but Glik stretches to make the crucial block.
Argentina are toying with Poland at the moment, who have barely made an impact so far.
16 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Fernandez sprints through the centre of the Polish half, intercepting some imperfect play from Poland, looking to set up Alvarez in the box. In the end, he can't manage half a chance, as the defence keep the ball under wraps.
Messi picks out Acuna running into the penalty area from the left, and he makes the shot, but there's too much lift on the ball, which flies over the cross bar.
14 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Poland are yet to unleash this evening, and they paddle the ball around the backline holding possession for a spell, drawing some of the early sting out of the game. Swiderski leaps for a long ball in the midpack of the Argentina half, but can't do much with the ball, which Molina quickly wins back level with his own box.
12 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Molina from wide attempts to feed Messi in the box, but he's quickly smothered. He'll be playmaker and finisher today, no stranger to heavy lifting.
10 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Argentina are emboldened by the home-like atmosphere in Stadium 974, it seems. Di Maria feeds in from the right to Messi, but there's a well-timed Polish block to contend with. As Lewandowski goes for the ball on the halfway line, he's clattered by Romero for a free kick to break up the early Argentine threat.
Di Maria, flanked by Molina, runs the ball in for Messi, who picks up on the edge of the box and cuts to fire at the near post. Dogged by Cash, Szcezsny swings into action to push the ball out for an unspecial corner.
8 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Bielik sends the ball over Argentine heads but no team-mate can meet its run quickly enough, and Argentina gather up possession, Messi running the ball over the halfway line. He plays a long, well-placed pass to Acuna on the run, but he can't reach it before it spills out for Szczesny's goal kick.
6 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Alvarez tumbles a Poland player to go skirting through the middle of the Polish half, and looks to set up Molina on the right, but Argentina are pushed back to their own half as Poland shut down the tentative attack.
Next to try is Di Maria, who cuts to a deep settled Messi. Acuna has the cross in, but Glik punts the ball back by some metres.
The ball falls to Messi but he catches the ball on his right on the edge of the D, and his ensuing shot is easily saved by a dropping Szczesny.
4 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Poland make initial gain in the Argentina half, before the ball is tussled out for a throw. Cash takes it, inching down the right, and the ball finds Lewandowski, who cuts across to Bielik. He takes the strike, which is undercooked, and the ball falls quickly back to the dark bluey purple players for Argentina.
2 min: Poland 0 Argentina 0
Di Maria is first to probe in Poland's box, and wins the opening corner. It's defended only as far as the edge of the box, before the ball flies back in to a leaping Otamendi. He can't get a decent head to it, and brings down Berezynski in the fracas.
There's a little bit of verbal between Otamendi and the Polish team, but the heat disperses quickly.
Poland get us underway in this final step before progression to the Round of 16 for the Group C teams.
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Here come the players, and their anthems
Poland's anthem plays first, and the players put on an excellent performance in the face of the anthem's breakneck tempo. Szczesny, eyes closed, is particularly impassioned.
But the noise pales in comparison for the wall of sound that hits when the Argentinian anthem begins. Poland supporters are outnumbered tonight, by some number.
Two minutes to go until kick-off!
Meanwhile, in the England camp
Some breaking news, as Ben White leaves the England set-up for personal reasons.
Ben White has left England's squad for personal reasons and is set to miss the rest of the World Cup.
The Arsenal centre-back missed the Group B win over Wales on Monday through illness after being an unused substitute against Iran and USA.
Flashes of red amidst the blue and white
Make your predictions
This could be extremely close run... But one should never rule out Messi.
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A familiar face in Poland's starting XI
... belongs to Aston Villa's Matty Cash, who has started for all three of Poland's group stage matches at this World Cup, and put in consistently strong performances. Cash qualifies for citizenship through his mother's side, and gained his passport in September 2021, getting his first national team call up that November.
Since then, he's registered nine appearances, scored a goal, belted out the national anthem with gusto, and starred in a charming, charming Christmas advert.
— Matty Cash (@mattycash622) November 24, 2022
There's a lot of needle in Group C
As it stands, here's the table before kick-off:
Poland - 4pts
Argentina - 3pts
Saudi Arabia - 3pts
Mexico - 1pt
Poland can top the group with a win, but their progression is only in jeopardy if they lose; otherwise, they're fine.
Argentina can progress with a win, and have little to fear unless Saudi Arabia beat Mexico by a good load of goals, as they're currently two ahead on goal difference. Should they draw, however, or lose, and eyes will begin to drift to Mexico's match against Saudi Arabia. You can follow that match here too, and key developments will pop up here as and when.
The players are out and warming up
The moment Lionel Messi proved the Argentina shirt means as much to him as it did Maradona
By kick-off, there were at least 10 massive poster tributes to the man who died two years and a day ago. In contrast, there had been just two obvious flags bigging up Messi, one of his face. In this do or die fixture for Argentina at a World Cup, it was the man so sorely missed – rather than the best player in the world for much of the last 15 years – who still just about had top billing.
"You have to understand," added Rodriguez, one of tens of thousands who arrived early. "We are here to honour Maradona as we feel his presence. Hopefully Messi is feeling him too because we need them both tonight."
Tom Morgan watched Messi take on Mexico, and reported on the changing tide as the No 10 steps up to stand alongside a nation's idol, Maradona.
All for La Albiceleste
All eyes on the superstars
Should Argentina seal progression to the Round of 16 this evening, it will be largely due to the efforts of Lionel Messi, who has dragged his team kicking and screaming to their important, but narrow, win over Mexico on Saturday evening. By contrast, Robert Lewandowski has had a muted competition as team talisman, which Szczensy proving the hero of the hour in Poland's rather more emphatic win over Saudi Arabia.
Both, therefore, are primed to prove the difference tonight: Lewandowski to add to his World Cup goal tally, his account only opened four days earlier, and Messi, to edge one step closer to emulating the immortal Diego Maradona.
Poland: Wojciech Szczensy (GK), Matty Cash, Kamil Glik, Jakub Kiwior, Bartosz Bereszynski, Piotr Zielinski, Krystan Bielik, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Przemyslaw Frankowski, Karol Swiderski, Robert Lewandowski (c)
Substitutes: Grabara, Skorupski, Gumny, Jedrzejczyk, Wieteska, Bednarek, Szymanski, Zurkowski, Skoras, Grosicki, Zalewski, Kaminski, Szymanski, Milik, Piatek
Argentina: Emiliano Martinez (GK), Marcus Acuna, Nicolas Otamendi, Cristian Romero, Nahuel Molina, Enzo Fernandez, Rodrigo de Paul, Alexis Mac Allister, Lionel Messi (c), Angel Di Maria, Julian Alvarez
Substitutes: Armani, Rulli, Montiel, Martinez, Pezzella, Foyth, Tagliafico, Palacios, Almada, Rodriguez, Paredes, Gomez, Martinez, Correa, Dyabala
Lewandowski vs Messi?
Crunch time in Group C. Argentina's shock defeat to Saudi Arabia on the third day of the tournament has had them playing catch up. Tonight they face group leaders Poland who drew with Mexico in their opener and rode to a 2-0 win over Hervé Renard's team.
This match pits two goalscoring veterans against one another: Robert Lewandowski, who has scored 77 goals in 136 appearances for his country, and Lionel Messi who has 93 in 167.
But Poland's head coach Czeslaw Michniewicz has sought to play down the battle of the talismanic forwards.
"Ever since the groups were drawn, the whole world has been waiting to see this match," said Michniewicz.
"It's a match between Poland and Argentina, not between Lewandowski and Messi.
"It's not tennis where they're going to play one-on-one and everyone will wait to see who serves an ace or a beautiful lob. Robert needs his team mates, so does Messi."
Poland top the standings on four points and will advance with a win or a draw. But they would be knocked out by a defeat coupled with a victory by Saudi Arabia over Mexico.
Argentina must avoid defeat tonight if they want to progress to the last 16. A draw may also send them through, although they would have to rely on Saudi Arabia not beating Mexico.
In short, only a win would guarantee qualification – although even that would not be enough if the Saudis win by a significant margin against Mexico.
Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni said: "Obviously after a victory against Mexico, we are feeling better emotionally. We are on the right path now.
"Have we recovered our identity after the [Messi] goal? It depends on how you see it, because then we had to defend the result, whatever it took. That's football. It's tough.
"We're expecting a difficult match. Poland are a team that at times close well in the box and also create situations for you in the box. We have to see who's playing.
"It's different depending on who is there. Our idea is quite clear. We'll try to defend set pieces with concentration."