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Argentina reach last-16 with Poland win despite Messi penalty miss

Argentina reach last-16 with Poland win despite Messi penalty miss

Argentina booked their place in the last-16 of the World Cup with a 1-0 win over Poland, seeing them through as winners of Group C to set up a clash with Australia next.
All four teams in the group went into the final set of matches still able to reach the knockout stages, making the permutations a complicated read. Argentina knew victory for them would be enough to get the job done and simplify the task.

They were frustrated in the the first-half, particularly when Lionel Messi saw his penalty saved by Wojciech Szcznesy, but Alexis Mac Allister broke the deadlock a minute after half-time to ease the Argentina nerves.

Julian Alvarez then made it a comfortable advantage for Argentina, ensuring the focus then turned to whether Poland would qualify for the knockout stages. With 20 minutes remaining they were edging through on the basis of having picked up fewer yellow cards than Mexico, though Grzegorz Krychowiak’s booking put even that in some jeopardy.

It resulted in a bizarre conclusion, Poland sitting off avoiding any real challenges and relying on Saudi Arabia not conceding a third to Mexico. They got their wish, with a late, late goal for the Saudis confirming that Poland will face France in the last-16.

Argentina made probably their best start to any match at the tournament so far, with it no coincidence that Messi was also seemingly able to get on the ball at will. He had two efforts saved in the early stages, before picking out Marcos Acuna who lashed over a wild short as he cut inside.

The pressure on Poland was almost relentless, so they could have done without a very questionable, to put it mildly, VAR call. Szczensy came off his line to try and claim a cross, missing the ball and flicking Messi with his glove as he tried to do so. The referee was told to look at the pitchside monitor, and as is seemingly inevitable returned to point to the spot.

What followed was certainly not in the script. Messi stepped up to the spot, seemingly destined to drag his country in front, but for the second time in the tournament Szczesny saved a penalty as the partisan crowd briefly fell silent.

Poland were fortunate to make it to the break on level terms, but that luck ran out 60 seconds after the restart. Nahuel Molina played a low cross into the box, Mac Allister scuffed the shot but it was good enough to bobble past Szczesny and into the far corner.

Argentina continued to look the more likely to score and they did just that to double their lead, as a long spell of possession ended with Alvarez working the ball onto his right foot and sending a brilliant finish into the top corner.

Lautaro Martinez came off the bench and should really have knocked Poland out, dragging his shot wide when clean through, as the Poles edged into the knockout stages in extraordinary fashion.

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