Malta Independent

Argentina soars back to round of 16, Poland claim second despite 2-0 loss


As the final whistle blew in a 2-0 domination, the Argentinia­ns went wild knowing they would be advancing to the round of 16. But on the other side of the field, Poland stood idly by awaiting their fate as the Mexico-Saudi Arabia fixture finished.

Thanks to Saudi Arabia’s goal in the final minutes, Poland claimed second position and Mexico and Saudi Arabia were sent home.

The game opened with none other than Lionel Messi proving his prowess on the pitch. The forward attempted a shot on goal in the 6th minute but Poland’s goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny denied, denied, denied.

Poland had yet to concede a goal in the 2022 World Cup up until this point – Poland’s first game resulted in a 0-0 draw with Mexico and their second game resulted in a 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia – and Szczesny kept this trend alive and well … for awhile, at least.

Another attempt by Messi came around in the 10th minute of play, which was quickly followed by a second save from Szczesny.

Messi had a nice assist to teammate Marcos Acuna in the 16th minute but Acuna beamed it over the crossbar, missing the opportunit­y to score. He later blasted a shot in the 28th minute after some quick incisive passing in the penalty box, but unfortunat­ely it was too far right to land.

Acuna had a strong left side near the goal and the left back received some great passing taps from his team in the middle, but unfortunat­ely none of them hit in the first half, nor did any goals for either team.

Argentina’s Angel Di Maria almost scored in the 32nd minute on a corner kick but Szczesny was over-prepared, making his fourth save of the night.

In the 35th minute, Szczesny managed to make a major save when Julian Alvarez came darting down the field. And it didn’t stop there.

The Polish goalkeeper scurried to his left to deflect another shot, which resulted in heavy review by the referees and a penalty kick for Messi.

Then controvers­y struck when Lionel Messi was awarded a penalty after a VAR review.

Poland keeper Wojciech Szczesny had attempted to punch away an Argentina cross but missed, and his hand struck the head of Messi at the back post. Messi had already headed the ball wide of the upright.

Mark Bosnich told SBS: “I thought he basically came out to get it. Just missed it and slightly put his hand into Messi’s face. Remember, contact doesn’t automatica­lly mean a foul. It has to be the force. His eyes were for the ball.”

Messi aimed a bullet kick to the top right corner but it was no match for the quick hands of Szczesny, who landed his sixth save of the night.

Three more saves in the 42nd minute for Szczesny made that nine for the night. There is no doubt the Polish defense needed a rest, just in time for the first half’s conclusion.

At the half, Argentina had nine shots on goal while Poland had zero – which also amounts to nine saves for Szczesny, one being a penalty from Messi.

It was officially time for Piotr Zielinski and Robert Lewandowsk­i to wake up, considerin­g they were Poland’s lifeline scorers so far in the group phase.

Seconds into the second half, Argentina finally found their footing. Alexis Mac Allister struck a shot straight past Szczesny off an assist from Nahuel Molina in the 46th minute of play. This was the 19th shot on goal for the Polish goalkeeper, and the first he let through.

Mac Allister went in again at the 60th minute after a great ball from Messi but Szczesny gained his 10th save of the night.

It was quiet on the other side of the pitch – Argentina’s goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez had yet to be forced into a save.

Shortly after, in the 67th minute, Argentina’s Julian Alvarez flicked the ball to the top right after creating a perfect amount of space for himself following an assist from Enzo Fernandez. Argentina led the finale 2-0 at this point.

In the 73rd minute, Alvarez went for back-to-back goals as he darted down the field and launched a high kick, but the shot landed on the outside of the goal. Similarly, Martinez attempted a shot in the 85th minute but it wasn’t good enough to reach the inside of the goal box.

Argentina finished with a win, and though Poland took the loss, they will not be sent home just yet.

It meant Poland reached the knockouts for the first time since 1986, having been knocked out in the group stage in their last three appearance­s before this year.

Earlier, Tunisia managed to cause an almighty boilover with a 1-0 victory over France, although it was all in vain thanks to the Socceroos’ win over Denmark.

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