Following Argentina’s shock 2-1 defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabia, Lionel Messi’s dreams of a glorious World Cup swansong are in the balance, and there is no more room for error when his team plays Mexico on Saturday.
In their favour, Argentina have the confidence of knowing that they are undefeated in their last ten encounters with Mexico (seven wins and three draws). Their last defeat against the Mexicans was in 2004 at Copa America, since when two World Cup meetings have each brought last-16 success for La Albiceleste (2-1 after extra time in 2006, and 3-1 in 2010).
Beaten finalists in 2014, Argentina were eliminated by France in the first knockout round in 2018, and they have now suffered four defeats in their last six games at World Cup torunaments.
It is worth noting that the defeat against Saudi Arabia was the first time that Argentina have lost their opening World Cup game since their equally infamous 1-0 loss to Cameroon at Italia 90 – and in that tournament they actually went on to reach the final.
Argentina have not exited at the group stage since 2002, but despite Tuesday’s seismic result, they will see their forthcoming games against Mexico and Poland as eminently winnable, and if they succeed in both, they will definitely qualify and could quite well end up topping Group C.
Mexico had the better of their opening goalless draw against Poland, although they could consider themselves fortunate to win a point after conceding a penalty just after half-time.
With the tight match looking increasingly likely to be decided by a single goal, the Mexicans were relieved to see goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa keep them in the game when he kept out Robert Lewandowski’s tame spot kick.
An inability to convert goal-scoring chances was the biggest problem for El Tri, and indeed if Mexico fail to find the net against Argentina, they will have gone four straight World Cup games without scoring.
Argentina notably struggled to work out Saudi Arabia’s adventurous high defensive line on Tuesday, when the South Americans were caught offside no less than ten times, a record for them in more than 55 years.
Lionel Messi was one of many in the Argentinian team to underperform dismally against the Saudis, and it would have been scant consolation that his first-half penalty meant he has now found the net in his last five international outings.
That said, given what is at stake against Mexico, it would be no surprise to see the little genius step up his game to take this match by the scruff of the neck, and he looks a good bet to get on the scoresheet again.
Possible Argentina XI: Martinez, Molina, Romero, Otamendi, Tagliafico, De Paul, Fernandez, Di Maria, Messi, Martinez, Alvarez
Possible Mexico XI: Ochoa, Sanchez, Moreno, Montes, Gallardo, Alvarez, Herrera, Guardado, Lozano, Jimenez, Vega