With a goal from midfielder Alexis Mac Allister in the first play of the second half and another from Julián Álvarez to seal the game in the final third, Argentina found relief and their way to the round of 16 of Qatar 2022 as the first group to draw together to Australia on the right path towards the global goal.
On the night reserved for backlash and the brilliance of Leo Messi and Robert Lewandowski, the Brighton midfielder was the resolute boy who turned a trap game for Scaloni’s side crashing, as far as he could, with Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny who avoided further punishment and covered up his team’s flaws. The Napoli goalkeeper stops Argentina and Messi, who also misses a penalty in the half hour.
Poland is still in the World Cup thanks to goal difference. Level on points with Mexico, who beat Saudi Arabia, they narrowly escaped elimination.
If it wasn’t for Wojciech Szczesny Poland I would have booked the return ticket before the stop. The Napoli goalkeeper was the savior of a decent team that managed to reach the last day with options and as leader of Group C thanks to his defensive discipline and the talent of his only two exceptional players. The goalkeeper of Warsaw and Robert Lewandowski, who has just intervened in the first sector.
The Barcelona striker was an island, the only extra in the European attack. Very far from the rest of the team, crouched, waiting for Argentina’s sentence, more and more relaxed, more and more offensive.
In ten minutes, Leo Messi searched for goal twice. The second, in the heel, was Szczesny’s letter of introduction which was to be multiplied later. It seemed a matter of time before Argentina found cracks in the Polish defense and opened up the scoring.
A shot from Alexis Mac Allister which the defender cleared before it reached the goal went into the shoes of Marcos Acuña who fired a fine shot that just grazed the post. Ángel Di María went for the Olympic goal but it came as no surprise as the Napoli goalkeeper prevented Julián Álvarez from scoring.
The Manchester City forward was one of the new faces in Lionel Scaloni’s eleven who once again set the starting team on fire. If he made five substitutions against Mexico, this time he was down to four. Enzo Fernández gained ownership. He played, sensibly, in front of the innovative defense this time with the presence of Nahuel Molina on the right wing and Cristián Romero in the center as a team-mate of Nicolás Otamendi.
The penalty was Argentina’s chance to regain some composure before the break. Szczesny went for the ball and hit Messi in the face, who finished with a header. The VAR cautioned the referee who reviewed the action and brought the ball within eleven metres. The captain, the Argentine scorer, executed. To the left of Szczesny who showed a prodigious hand to avoid the goal.
Szczesny has already saved two penalties, who also saved his own against Saudi Arabia when he guessed Salem Al Dawsary’s shot in the second round of the group stage.
Argentina couldn’t find a way out until Mac Allister appeared in early action of the second half. Just when the Polish coach was looking for more in his team with the appearance of Jakub Laminski and Michal Skoras.
The new arrivals did not have time to implement coach Czeslaw Michniewicz’s guidance as a foray down the right wing by Nahuel Molina resulted in a cross into the box that reached Mac Allister. The Brighton midfielder has been fired. He hit it badly but the ball came out poisoned, it hit the post out of Szczesny’s reach.
Poland did not react. And played with fire. The party came from Argentina which did not stop. He doubled his lead in the final third of the game, in the 68th minute when Enzo Fernández made up a pass to Julián Álvarez, from behind. He turns around, makes space and his shot is impossible for the Polish goalkeeper. The 22-year-old Manchester City forward made his debut as a goalscorer.
There could be many more. Argentina was at ease and the Poles disoriented. Messi didn’t have his day as he collided with Szczesny’s inspiration at every attempt.
Argentina has left behind the nightmare against Saudi Arabia. From minus to plus, he played duels with Mexico and Poland to exit the initial stage with flying colors, reach the milestone of the round of 16 and extend his milestone. Now they will have to face Australia for the round of 16.