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Messi stunner helps Argentina to crucial victory over Mexico

Lionel Messi’s superb long-range strike helped revive Argentina’s flagging World Cup hopes as they claimed a crucial 2-0 win over Mexico at the Lusail Stadium.

Argentina came into the game knowing defeat would mean elimination after their shock 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia and they laboured again until Messi’s 65th-minute intervention.

The 35-year-old, playing at what is expected to be his last World Cup, picked up Angel Di Maria’s pass outside the box and arrowed a precise shot into the bottom corner to break the deadlock in a scrappy and ill-tempered encounter.

Messi then turned provider as Argentina made the game safe three minutes from time, his pass finding substitute Enzo Fernandez who cut inside and curled a sumptuous finish past Guillermo Ochoa.

The victory looked unlikely at times during a game disrupted by constant fouls and featuring little in the way of quality, but it takes Argentina up to second in Group C, a point behind Poland, who they face in their final game as they bid to clinch their place in the last 16.

“Today another World Cup starts for Argentina,” Messi said after the game. “I tell people the same thing, that they continue to believe. Today we did what we had to do.

“We had no other choice. We had to win so that we depended only on ourselves.

“The first half we didn’t play as we should and in the second, when we calmed down, we started to play the ball better and after the goal we went back to being what we are.”

Big moments in the game…

  • 45 min: Mexico register the first shot on target as Vega’s free kick saved
  • 51 min: Messi’s first attempted shot sees him sky a free kick
  • 64 min: Messi scores a brilliant opener from Di Maria’s pass
  • 87 min: Fernandez adds Argentina’s late second

How Argentina emerged victorious

Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni had sought to shake things up following the Saudi Arabia defeat, making five changes to his team, with Manchester United’s Lisandro Martinez and Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister among those included.

But there was no sign of improvement in a dire first half, with Messi unable to influence proceedings and Lautaro Martinez cutting an isolated figure ahead of him as Argentina, flat and disjointed, picked up where they left off in Tuesday’s game.

Messi celebrates his goal with Julian Alvarez
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Messi celebrates his goal with Julian Alvarez

Mexico looked more threatening in the first period, but, like Argentina, they struggled to produce any real moments of quality, with an Alexis Vega free-kick, comfortably saved by Emi Martinez, the only effort on target from either side before the interval.

There was more of the same after the break despite the crackling atmosphere inside the ground, with a wayward Messi free kick seemingly summing up his evening as he struggled to spark.

It all changed, though, when he finally found himself in a pocket of space around 25 yards from goal, taking a touch to control Di Maria’s pass before rifling an unstoppable shot into the far corner.

Argentina's Enzo Fernandez celebrates his goal
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Argentina’s Enzo Fernandez celebrates after scoring the second

The goal sparked wild celebrations among Argentina’s players and fans and there was another outpouring of relief when substitute Fernandez ran onto Messi’s pass following a corner and dispatched a sublime finish from the left-hand side of the box.

Mexico offered little in response, registering only four shots over the course of the game, leaving Argentina to celebrate a victory that maintains their hopes of qualifying for the last 16.

What it means in Group C

Having avoided a defeat to Mexico which would have ended their World Cup participation, Argentina have their Group C destiny in their own hands again. Victory against Poland on Wednesday night will guarantee not only their progression but also put them in pole position to advance as group winners – to deny them top spot in that scenario, Saudi Arabia would not only need to beat Mexico but also win by a larger margin than Argentina.

Poland will progress if they avoid defeat to Argentina – a win would guarantee their progression as group winners – while a draw for Saudi Arabia against Mexico and a defeat for Poland would only see the Saudis qualify if Poland lose heavily.

As for Mexico, they have to beat Saudi Arabia to have any hope of qualifying. A win for Mexico and a defeat for Argentina against Poland would definitely be sufficient for Mexico to finish as runners-up while a win for Mexico and a draw between Argentina and Poland would see the two South American teams finish level on points and runners-up status determined by goal difference.

Keane: Moments of quality won it

Sky Sports pundit Roy Keane told ITV: “As these great players get older, it’s all about moments and that bit of end product. We’ve talked about Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo recently, the finish was brilliant, but other than that he was very average.

“But he produced that moment. He’s now got two goals in two games and considering people are saying he’s almost finished, you can’t write these players off.

“In the second half, I was looking at Argentina thinking ‘what kind of characters have you got, because you’re up against it’, but they turned it around. They found a way to win the game with two bits of quality.

“Credit to the manager, he made changes before the game and just as important, made changes during the game. They got the job done and they’ll be feeling a lot better tonight.”

Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring Argentina's opener
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Messi celebrates after scoring Argentina’s opener

Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville credited Argentina’s switch to five at the back as another key factor in the victory.

“In the first half, I couldn’t see a way for Argentina in terms of the overall competition,” he said on ITV.

“But I liked it when they went to five at the back, they did it at the start of the second half by dropping one of the midfield players in, but then they bought Romero on.

“All of a sudden, they looked a lot more aggressive and the three in midfield had a lot more energy.

“Then with Alvarez and Messi up front as a two, you can build from a solid foundation and have the players up front who can actually deliver in moments, which is how Argentina are going to win this tournament if they’re going to do it.”

Analysis: Messi still a game-changer

Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Lionel Messi had endured a deeply frustrating evening at the Lusail Stadium, his struggles mirroring those of the Argentina team as a whole, but his sensational opening goal was a reminder he can still change a game in an instant.

Messi had floated on the periphery of a poor-quality encounter for the preceding hour, a wayward free kick early in the second half his only attempt on goal. But when his opportunity finally came, in a pocket of space just outside the box, he seized it.

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Messi’s goal set the stadium alight in perfect tribute to Maradona, reports Sky Sports News’ Melissa Reddy

The goal, guided into the bottom corner, was his 93rd for his country and his eighth at the World Cup, putting him level with Diego Maradona. It may prove to be one of his most significant too.

Argentina had been awful until that moment but their belief gradually returned after it and when the second goal came it was no surprise to see Messi involved, the 35-year-old feeding Enzo Fernandez, whose stunning finish made the game safe.

Argentina’s work is not done. A difficult final group game against Poland awaits. They will need to show considerable improvement on this performance if they are to navigate it successfully and plot a route into the latter stages of the tournament.

But in Messi, they know they have a trump card, a player who, even at 35, is still capable of elevating them when they need it most. With the Saudi Arabia debacle now behind them, and with Messi chasing his World Cup destiny, Argentina can dream again.

Messi level with Maradona – Opta stats

  • Lionel Messi has scored in six successive appearances for Argentina, his joint-longest ever scoring run in international football (also 6 between November 2011 – September 2012).
  • Lionel Messi has now scored as many World Cup goals as Diego Maradona (8), with only Gabriel Batistuta (10) netting more for Argentina at the tournament overall.
  • Since 1966, only Rivellino (5) has scored more World Cup goals from outside the box than Messi (4).
  • Andres Guardado became just the sixth player to feature at five different World Cups (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022) and the third different Mexican to do so after Rafael Márquez and Antonio Carbajal.
  • Argentina are unbeaten in their last 11 meetings with Mexico in all competitions (W8 D3) since a 1-0 loss in the 2004 Copa America.

World Cup hits and misses: France rival England’s display, is Mbappe the best?

France join England as statement makers

Adrien Rabiot celebrates his equaliser against Australia
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Adrien Rabiot celebrates his equaliser against Australia

Are you watching Gareth Southgate?

The World Cup was waiting to see if any team could match England’s dismantling of Iran on the second day of the tournament. Reigning champions France have run them close at this early stage.

France had a shaky start by conceding early to Australia but the sign of champions is how you respond to setbacks. Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud turned on the style as they ran out 4-1 winners, but the whole team performance was equally impressive.

Theo Hernandez showed great efficiency off the bench and was France’s best attacker at times from left-back. Adrien Rabiot and Aurelien Tchouameni were an unstoppable pivot at times as they ran Australia ragged.

It was far from a perfect performance from France, but neither was England’s. In fact, there are very similar trends between the two teams so far in this tournament.

While England’s depth off the bench was noted by their substitutes, it was the replacements France did not use – the likes of Saliba, Raphael Varane and Eduardo Camavinga – which helps their case for back-to-back triumphs.

Olivier Giroud celebrates his second goal against Australia
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Olivier Giroud celebrates his second goal against Australia

England will face France in the quarter-final should both teams win their group and their last-16 encounter. It is already a possible blockbuster clash to bookmark for December 10.
Sam Blitz

Is Mbappe the best in the world? It feels like it when you watch him…

The four World Cup games on Tuesday stretched across the day. In the morning, we saw one epic era beginning to fade. In the night, we saw the star of the next generation shining bright.

Kylian Mbappe celebrates after putting France 3-1 up against Australia
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Kylian Mbappe celebrates after putting France 3-1 up against Australia

Lionel Messi is not done yet and it would be foolish to write off his Argentina. His country recovered from the shock of defeat to Cameroon back in 1990 to reach the World Cup final and, after the underwhelming afternoon fare between Mexico and Poland, there is a strong chance this group will still make it into the knockouts.

But the emphatic display from France, and Mbappe in particular, in the final match of the day was irresistible. Messi may be searching for one final triumph with Argentina but Mbappe is riding the rocket to the skies.

The flying forward gave his markers – and there were often two of them – a torrid time down that left flank.

A blur of brilliance, Mbappe fired off seven shots – the most by any player at this tournament so far – and sent in a game-high nine crosses, including the centre for Giroud’s second. His clever flick had already helped Rabiot set up the target man for his first.

Kylian Mbappe rues a missed chance late in the first half
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Mbappe rues a missed chance late in the first half but still ended up on the scoresheet

Mbappe scored himself with a towering header and it seemed a good example of his completeness. Four years ago he was a remarkable but raw talent. Now he is the leader of this hugely-talented French side, knows his strengths and believes in his ability.

“Kylian has been one of the best players in the world for some time now,” said France boss Didier Deschamps afterwards. But when you see him play like this, it is hard to think Mbappe does not rank inside the top one.
Peter Smith

Underrated Giroud takes his place in the record books

When Karim Benzema stated a few years ago he was a Formula One car and Giroud was a go-kart in comparison it highlighted a rather unfair perception of Giroud across football. Perhaps he is not in the absolute elite bracket of Ballon d’Or winners such as his compatriot but this is a player who has put together a formidable career.

Olivier Giroud is congratulated by France coach Didier Deschamps
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Giroud is congratulated by France coach Didier Deschamps

A Champions League winner at Chelsea, where he also won a Europa League and FA Cup to go with the three FA Cups he won with Arsenal. League titles in France and Italy and of course that World Cup win with France four years ago. Individually there was the Puskas Award in 2017 for his iconic scorpion kick.

It is some CV and on Tuesday night Giroud added to it, with his two goals against Australia making him joint-top scorer in his country’s history, alongside Thierry Henry, with 51 strikes. He has a better strike-rate than Henry, too, and, for the record, is 14 clear of Benzema.

Perhaps a Premier League title would have elevated his status. And failing to score throughout Russia 2018 was an oddity. But those who watched him and certainly those who played with him will have appreciated his contribution in that competition, freeing up Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.

Olivier Giroud executes a bicycle kick against Australia
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Giroud executes a bicycle kick against Australia

The celebrations of the whole team when he headed in his record-equalling second against Australia underlined his popularity among Les Bleus.

At 36 years and 53 days he became the second oldest player to score a double at a World Cup. It follows a 2021/22 season where he helped fire AC Milan to their first title in over a decade.

In these final laps of his career, Giroud keeps on delivering. When the chequered flag waves on his career he will have a legacy which demands respect.
Peter Smith

Fearless Green Falcons tear Group C wide open

Saudi Arabia's fans jubilant at the Lusail Stadium
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Saudi Arabia fans were jubilant at the Lusail Stadium

Lionel Messi looked shell-shocked at the final whistle. This may not yet be a defining defeat for Argentina’s World Cup hopes but it was a humbling story to send shockwaves around the world.

The little magician did not know where to turn. Surrounded at one point in stoppage time deep in Saudi Arabia’s penalty box, Messi ran out of ideas.

Quite where the second half came from is anyone’s guess. Argentina looked in total control and appeared unaffected by the three disallowed goals during a one-sided opening period.

No matter, we will score again soon – that was the misplaced sentiment. But the chances dried up. The emboldened Yasser Al-Shahrani alongside the imperious Hassan Al-Tambakti formed a wall as tall as the Jabal Sawda. On one occasion, Al-Tambakti celebrated a sliding tackle on Messi as though he had won the World Cup.

Salem Al-Dawsari celebrates beating Argentina
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Salem Al-Dawsari celebrates beating Argentina

This was their final, but no nation in Group C will now fancy facing them in the coming days. After just a second World Cup win in 28 years, head coach Herve Renard will be confident of masterminding more success against Poland and Mexico.

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Saudi Arabia head coach Herve Renard says his team have made footballing history by beating Argentina, but now they have to look forward to their remaining two group stage games

Defensively, this was as close to perfection as you are likely to see as Lionel Scaloni threw on Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez. It was some forward line by the end – garnishing players from Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Inter Milan – but the nation ranked outside of the world’s top 50 would not be beaten.

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Saudi Arabia fans celebrated their team’s shock win over Argentina while fans in Buenos Aires were left stunned by the defeat

Al-Shahrani was forced off with a sickening head injury in stoppage time but his heroics had epitomised these fearless Falcons as a collective. The group has well and truly been ripped wide open.
Ben Grounds

‘Deserved’ defeat leaves Argentina’s World Cup hopes in the balance

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Kaveh Solhekol says Saudi Arabia’s win against Argentina has to be considered as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history

Argentina were on the end of one of the greatest shocks in the history of the World Cup after losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in their opening Group C clash on Tuesday, but perhaps the most worrying aspect of the defeat for one of the pre-tournament favourites was that it was no fluke by the underdogs.

Scaloni’s side arrived at Qatar 2022 unbeaten in their previous 36 matches, a run that included winning the 2021 Copa America, and with hopes high that Messi could finally get his hands on the Jules Rimet trophy.

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South American football expert Tim Vickery says Saudi Arabia’s win over Argentina was not a fluke and the better team won

Heading into half-time at the Lusail Iconic Stadium, everything was going according to plan as far as Messi and co were concerned, leading 1-0, and yet less than 10 minutes into the second half, they found themselves trailing.

But as much as they huffed and puffed, Argentina never really threatened to blow the opposition house down thereafter as they showed a worrying lack of invention and imagination when trying to break down the massed ranks of Saudi defenders.

“Argentina were very, very close to breaking the all-time record for the number of games unbeaten, 36, and no one in Argentina was expecting this result,” South American football expert Tim Vickery told Sky Sports News after the game.

There was a worry in Argentina that things had been going too well and that things would go wrong when they mattered most, but no one imagined it going wrong today.

Tim Vickery, South American football expert

“But it ended up being deserved, this is not one of those fluke underdog wins and it is one of the all-time great World Cup results. There was a worry in Argentina that things had been going too well and that things would go wrong when they mattered most, but no one imagined it going wrong today.”

The two-time winners are not out of the tournament by any stretch of the imagination, however, they cannot afford any more slip-ups in their remaining two group contests against Mexico and Poland.
Richard Morgan

Australia have enough heart to progress

Not many fancied Australia to produce a result against France. Pre-match, many analysts could only point to Saudi Arabia’s shock win over Argentina as a reason why they could, without discussing the Socceroos’ own plus points.

But in the opening quarter, it looked like Graham Arnold’s side were set for another shock. France were rattled, Australia were comfortable and confident. It had all the makings of a positive outcome.

Craig Goodwin celebrates after opening the scoring for Australia against France
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Craig Goodwin celebrates after opening the scoring for Australia against France

In the end, the quality came through. Arnold could only admit that France were “bigger, faster and stronger” than his side. While they dominated the opening exchanges, the overall momentum looked a lot more negative.

But the heart they showed in the first half shows they do have enough to get out of this group. Only the woodwork denied them, namely Jackson Irvine, an equaliser for 2-2. Harry Souttar, Nathaniel Atkinson and Riley McGree did not look out of place at this level, while Garang Kuol showed some nice touches after coming on.

Furthermore, Denmark and Tunisia showed earlier in the day that France are the standout team in this group.

Apply the same heart showed against France in their next two games, Australia could come away with six points and a spot in the knockout rounds.
Sam Blitz

Stars don’t win games, teams do

Denmark's Andreas Cornelius sends his header onto the post
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Denmark’s Andreas Cornelius missed a close-range header

One of the tournament’s highly-rated teams Denmark failed to make a winning start due to a flat performance, which relied on star players, especially Christian Eriksen to save the day.

While Denmark edged possession, and had almost double the completed number of passes, Tunisia were dogged, staying in the game through tenacious pursuit of the ball and chances. No wonder Ellyes Skhiri ran the highest distance (13.16km) and the young Hannibal had the highest average speed (8kph). Tunisia had the ball in the back of the net at one point too.

Aissa Laidouni was superb in the Tunisia midfield
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Aissa Laidouni was superb in the Tunisia midfield

Player-of-the-match, Tunisia’s Aissa Laidouni speaking after the game, demonstrated the proactive Tunisian mindset. He said: “We didn’t come to get a draw. We wanted to get the win, and I think we did have chances for that, but at the end of the day we’re happy with the draw.”

Tunisia’s performance, like Saudi Arabia, reflected the ever-emerging pattern in this World Cup so far, however obvious it might seem, that stars don’t win games, teams do.

Yes, Tunisia didn’t win this one, but a draw against Denmark will certainly feel like victory.
Adam s

Toothless Mexico draw another blank

From left, Mexico's Edson Alvarez, Luis Chavez and Hector Moreno ague with referee Christopher Beath during the World Cup group C soccer match between Mexico and Poland, at the Stadium 974 in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
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Mexico were frustrated in their goalless draw with Poland

Argentina’s shock defeat to Saudi Arabia earlier on Tuesday blew Group C wide open but it was also a result that seemed to encourage Mexico and Poland to play it safe when they met in Doha.

Mexico had more possession and more shots but never truly threatened the scoresheet – something that has been a recurring theme in recent seasons.

Gerardo Martino’s side have only scored 18 goals in their 18 matches in 2022, while Alexis Vega – who started on the left of Mexico’s front three – is their top scorer this calendar year with just four goals.

Mexico did not set the world alight in CONCACAF qualifying either, coming through the eight-team section in second place after scoring 17 times and conceding only eight in 14 matches.

Their goalless draw with Poland has also extended an unwanted record at World Cups, with Mexico now failing to score in each of their last three matches at the tournament.

Saturday’s encounter with Argentina would be a perfect time for Mexico to find their shooting boots. If Martino can guide his side to victory against his former employers, they will not only give themselves an excellent chance of reaching the last 16, but also potentially eliminate one of the favourites from the tournament.
Joe Shread

Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia commentary

Full Time
After Extra Time
This is a live match.
Extra Time
Half Time

Argentina
vs Saudi Arabia. FIFA World Cup Group C.

Lusail Iconic StadiumAttendance88,012.




Argentina



1

  • L Messi (10th minute pen)




Saudi Arabia



2

  • S Al-Shehri (48th minute)
  • S Al-Dawsari (53rd minute)

Messi’s defining Argentina moments

As Lionel Messi prepares for what he says may be his last World Cup, we look at the highs and lows of his Argentina career…

Sent off on debut

By the time Messi made his Argentina debut, the hype around this exciting teenage talent was surging. After opting for Argentina over Spain, he had shone for the U20s, scoring twice in the U20 World Cup final in July 2005, and earned his first senior cap in an August friendly that year against Hungary as an 18-year-old. It ended in tears. Literally.

Sent on as a second-half sub, Messi was only on the field for a couple of minutes before he flung his arm at Vilmos Vanczak. The defender had grabbed a clump of Messi’s shirt as he darted past and the little forward had barely caught his opponent as he tried to break free. But while it was a yellow for the Hungarian, the referee brandished a red card at Messi. He was later found crying in the dressing room, or so the story goes.

For all of Messi’s prodigious ability, this was perhaps a symbolic moment hinting at the frustrations and obstacles Messi would later face on the international stage. Just like his debut, his international career hasn’t panned out quite how he would have dreamed it…

Messi with Argentina

Caps: 165 (record)
Goals: 91 (record)
Honours: U20 World Cup 2005, Olympic Games 2008, World Cup runner-up 2014, Copa America 2021, Finalissima 2022

Olympic Games glory

For all the disappointment in Argentina colours, Messi does at least have an Olympic gold medal in his possession. In 2008, with Messi already a key player for Barcelona, he had initially been barred from playing in Beijing by his club as the tournament clashed with Champions League qualifiers. Fortunately for Messi and Argentina, new Barca boss Pep Guardiola saw it differently.

Messi won the 2008 Olympics with Sergio Aguero
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Messi won the 2008 Olympics with Sergio Aguero


Guardiola, an Olympic champion himself, knew the importance of the competition to Messi and his countrymen and permitted him to go. Messi seized the chance – and the tournament, playing a key role in Argentina’s progress to the final, where he set up the only goal of the game against Nigeria. It is a victory he treasures.

“The Olympic gold in 2008 is the win that I value the most,” he told Spanish outlet Esquire. “It is a tournament that you may only play in once in your life and involves many athletes from different disciplines.”

Messi: Argentina prodigy

Messi became the youngest player to represent – and score for – Argentina at a World Cup in 2006, aged 18 years, 357 days.

World Cup 2014 final heartbreak

After no goals but heaps of criticism in South Africa 2010, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil seemed the perfect stage for Messi to finally lead Argentina to glory on the biggest stage. Wearing the captain’s armband, he set about leading from the front, scoring important goals in all three group games.

Messi was a World Cup runner-up in 2014
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Messi was a World Cup runner-up in 2014

Come the knockouts, he turned provider, assisting a late extra-time winner against Switzerland and kicking off the move that led to the only goal of the game against Belgium. His assured penalty then set the tone in the semi-final shootout win over the Netherlands.

But come the final he could not inspire his team-mates to make the last step. “It’s very painful to lose in the manner that we did,” Messi said after Mario Gotze’s extra-time winner grabbed Germany victory.

Messi was controversially awarded the Golden Ball as best player at the tournament. “The prize doesn’t interest me at all,” he said, as he reflected on Argentina’s defeat. The Golden Ball was his but the golden opportunity to emulate Diego Maradona with a World Cup win had escaped Messi’s grasp.

More final defeats and short-lived retirement

“For me, the national team is over. I’ve done all I can,” said a disconsolate Messi as he announced his international retirement after Argentina’s 2016 Copa America final defeat by Chile.

In a repeat of the 2015 Copa America final, Argentina had once again lost to their South American neighbours on penalties after a 0-0 stalemate. Messi had delivered at vital moments in both competitions but after heartbreak in the 2007 edition of the competition and the previous World Cup, his record in major finals reads: four finals, four defeats.

The disappointment had become too much.

Messi has so often been the target for criticism from the demanding Argentina supporters, but now they campaigned for him to change his mind. It worked. Messi reversed his decision and scored in the 1-0 win on his return, a World Cup qualifier against Uruguay. Re-motivated for one more tilt at major honours with his country, Messi set his sights on Russia 2018.

Hat-trick hero sets up another World Cup shot

Despite running to the finals of the 2014 World Cup and 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas, Argentina were in severe danger of missing out on Russia 2018, continually suffering setbacks during the extended South American qualifying campaign. Would Argentina miss out for the first time since 1970?

Messi scored a hat-trick against Ecuador to send Argentina to Russia
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Messi scored a hat-trick against Ecuador to send Argentina to Russia

Not if Messi had anything to do with it. The Argentina captain was at his brilliant best in the decisive clash with Ecuador. Argentina were behind with just 38 seconds on the clock but Messi came up with a match-winning hat-trick to secure the comeback win and book a place at the World Cup.

From the close-range opener to the edge-of-the-box drive and superb solo third, it was a masterclass in performing under pressure. “Luckily the nationality of the best player in the world is Argentinian,” said boss Jorge Sampaoli. Unfortunately for Sampaoli, Argentina and the main man himself, Messi was unable to haul a poor national side to success in Russia.

Silverware finally arrives

It must have felt like Groundhog Day when Argentina kicked off their 2019 Copa America campaign with a dispiriting 2-0 defeat to Colombia, and it needed a Messi penalty to rescue a 1-1 draw against Paraguay in their second game too.

A routine win over guest participants Qatar took them through to the quarter-finals, even as Argentina saw off Venezuela 2-0 at the Maracana in Brazil, Messi was criticised for his underwhelming performances and lack of goals. “I am not playing my best Copa America or as I hoped to do,” he admitted afterwards.

His and Argentina’s timid performance in the final third continued as they were beaten 2-0 by hosts Brazil in the semi-finals, and though they rallied to seal third place, it was scant consolation with time running out for Messi to lift the trophy.

With the 2021 competition with Messi on the cusp of his 34th birthday, it really felt like now or never. An opening-game goal to earn a draw with Chile felt like an early answer to his critics from two years earlier.

messi
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Messi scored four and made five of Argentina’s 12 goals en route to the 2021 Copa America title

Argentina won their group, with Messi on target twice more and becoming Argentina’s highest-capped player in the process.

The records continued to tumble; after cruising past Ecuador in the quarter-finals, Argentina took an early lead against Colombia in the last four through Messi’s cut-back for Lautaro Martinez. That took him to nine goal involvements in the competition, matching his best ever contribution at an international tournament.

That game would end up going to penalties but Messi held his nerve with his hopes of ever lifting the Copa America on the line – and so did his team-mates. Though he didn’t score in Argentina’s win over Brazil in the final he was named player of the tournament, having played a part in nine of their 12 goals – and more importantly, he finally had some major silverware to call his own.

Argentina lift the Copa America title
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Messi finally lifted the Copa America trophy with Argentina last year

“It was clear to me that I had to try until the last tournament and that I couldn’t withdraw from the national team without winning something,” he later told Diario Sport. A year later he would play an integral part in Argentina’s victory the inaugural Finalissima, beating Euro 2020 winners Italy 3-0.

That winners’ medal would pale into insignificance on his mantelpiece compared to that from the Copa America – but there still remains a World Cup-shaped gap ready to outshine that too.

Saudi Arabia inflict huge shock on Argentina | Messi: Five minutes of mistakes

Saudi Arabia produced one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history as Salem Al-Dawsari’s stunning solo effort secured a 2-1 victory over Argentina in Group C at the Lusail Iconic Stadium.

Time stood still as Al-Dawsari plucked the ball out from the sky and turned inside two Argentina defenders before curling his finish beyond the reach of Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, producing one of the biggest moments of any World Cup finals.

Lionel Messi had given one of the pre-tournament favourites the lead from the penalty spot after a contentious VAR decision (10) but Saleh Al-Shehri levelled just three minutes into the second period to set up an almighty upset.

The result ended Argentina’s 36-game unbeaten run, stretching back to defeat against Brazil three years ago but this was the greatest day in Saudi Arabian football history.

“This hurts a lot. We were dreaming of starting the World Cup with a win,” said Messi’s strike partner Lautaro Martinez. “But it’s happened and now we have to train and think forward.

“We lost this game because of our own mistakes, most of all in the second half. There are details that make a difference and we need to correct our mistakes.”

When Argentina last lost their opening World Cup group game in 1990 – against Cameroon – they went on to reach the final where they lost to Germany, but that will be of little consolation to the South Americans right now following defeat to the nation ranked 51st in world football.

Saudi Arabia's Saleh Al-Shehri celebrates scoring their side's
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Al-Shehri made it 1-1 at the Lusail Iconic Stadium

Player ratings

Argentina: Martinez (6), Tagliafico (5), Romero (4), Otamendi (5), Molina (5), Paredes (5), De Paul (6), Messi (6), Di Maria (5), Gomez (5), Lautaro Martinez (6).

Subs: Acuna (6), Alvarez (5), Lisandro Martinez (6), Fernandez (5).

Saudi Arabia: Al-Owais (8), Al-Bulayhi (7), Abdulhamid (7), Al-Shahrani (8), Tambakti (9), Al-Malki (8), Salem Al-Dawsari (9), Al-Shehri (8), Kanno (7), Al-Faraj (6), Al-Buraikan (7).

Subs: Al-Ghanam (6), Al-Amri (n/a), Asiri (n/a), Abdulrahim (6), Al-Burayk (n/a).

Player of the match: Salem Al-Dawsari.

How Saudi Arabia shocked Argentina

Saleh Al-Shehri sparked a stunning turnaround
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Saleh Al-Shehri sparked a stunning turnaround

Big moments in the game…

  • 10 min: Saud Abdulhamid is penalised for pulling Leandro Paredes’ shirt inside the box. Lionel Messi dispatches his penalty.
  • 22 min: Messi has the ball in the net, but the offside flag goes up immediately to cut short Argentina celebrations.
  • 27 min: Martinez is slipped clean through on goal and he produces a lovely dink to score but the strike is disallowed by VAR for offside.
  • 35 min: Argentina and Martinez have the ball in the net again, but the flag once again goes up for offside against the Inter forward.
  • 48 min: Saleh Al-Shehri finds a yard of space on Cristian Romero to flash a low shot into the bottom corner.
  • 53 min: Salem Al-Dawsari scores a stunning solo goal to complete the comeback.

Saudi Arabia failed to have a single shot in the first half and have history when it comes to a lowly strike rate in front of goal. Since 1966, of the ten instances of a team failing to attempt a shot in the first half of a match, Saudi have achieved that unwanted blank on three occasions – making what happened against Argentina all the more unlikely.

Midfielder Abdulelah Al-Malki said the Saudis were fired up like never before by their coach Herve Renard – who was sacked by Cambridge United in 2004.

“Renard made us cry with the motivation before the match and stoked us up during half-time,” he said, affectionately calling the Frenchman “crazy”.

Team news

  • Lionel Messi shrugged off some fatigue niggles to lead the line on Tuesday in the Group C opener against Saudi Arabia where he begins his last quest for an elusive World Cup trophy.
  • With Paulo Dybala still not recovered from injury, Lautaro Martinez and Angel Di Maria were up front with Messi in a star-studded team who are one of the favourites to win in Qatar.
  • Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard kept captain and midfielder Salman Al-Faraj in the team despite a recent shoulder injury. He has been a cornerstone of Al Hilal’s dominance of Asian club football in recent years.

The entire game was played in an extraordinary atmosphere at the Lusail Stadium, with Argentina’s traditionally massive and raucous following matched by the thousands of Saudis who had come over the border to cheer on their team.

Referee Slavko Vincic awarded Argentina a penalty upon VAR review after 10 minutes when Leandro Paredes had his shirt pulled by Saud Abdulhamid inside the box.

Messi made no mistake, becoming the fifth player to score at four different World Cup tournaments after Pelé, Uwe Seeler, Miroslav Klose and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Messi scored in the opening goal from the spot
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Messi scored in the opening goal from the spot

Three times Argentina were then denied by the offside flag in the first half with Messi thwarted on one occasion before Lautaro Martinez twice found the net only to be ruled out by VAR.

The game turned on its head within three minutes of the restart, however, with Al-Shehri capitalising on hesitancy from Cristian Romero to find the bottom corner.

If the Saudis inside the stadium looked on speechless with the rest of the world, they had barely regained their breath when Al-Dawsari brought the ball down inside the Argentina box, danced inside Nahuel Molina and Angel Di Maria and curled a right-foot shot high into the far corner to seal a triumph against all the odds.

Argentina's Lautaro Martinez scores a goal before it is ruled out after a VAR check
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Argentina’s Lautaro Martinez scores a goal before it is ruled out after a VAR check

“Our team fulfils our dreams!” and “Where is Messi? We beat him!”, the green-clad Saudis chanted over and over in the Lusail Stadium, on their feet and greeting every clearance from their defence with a deafening roar.

Both teams have Mexico and Poland to come, with Argentina needing an immediate reaction if Messi is to have a realistic chance of matching Diego Maradona’s immortality in his homeland by bringing home the World Cup.

The result broke Argentina’s amazing 36-match undefeated run and stopped them from matching the previous international record of 37 games unbeaten held by Italy.

“It’s a situation that this group of players has never been through, it’s been a while since we suffered such a tough blow, we didn’t expect to start like this,” Messi told Argentinian media.

“In five minutes of mistakes that we made, we went 2-1 down and then it was really tough and we lost organisation and started punting the ball,” he said in comments broadcast by Todo Noticias.

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Kaveh Solhekol says Saudi Arabia’s win against Argentina has to be considered as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.

“We knew they were a team who would play if we let them. They did not surprise us, we knew they could do that.”

“Obviously we have to win or win now. It’s up to us to fix what we did wrong and get back to the basics of who we are. We’re OK, obviously hurt by the result, very bitter. But people must trust that this team will not let them down and we are going to go for it in the next two games. We’ve played games of this nature before and we’re going to perform well.

“Now’s the time to be more united than ever, to show how truly strong we are.”

World Cup’s biggest shocks

  • June 1950: USA 1-0 England
  • July 1966: North Korea 1-0 Italy
  • June 1978 Scotland 3-2 Netherlands
  • June 1990: Argentina 0-1 Cameroon
  • June 1994: Republic of Ireland 1-0 Italy
  • May 2002: France 0-1 Senegal
  • June 2002: Italy 1-2 South Korea
  • June 2010: Spain 0-1 Switzerland
  • November 2022: Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia

Should Argentina have been awarded a penalty?

Argentina looked to be in total control at half time
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Argentina looked to be in total control at half time

Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness on ITV: “He doesn’t know where the ball is. He’s only interested in an Argentina player. He doesn’t know when it’s been kicked and I think that is a penalty for me.

“He’s not looking at the ball, the directive from the referees is that’s a penalty.”

Sky Sports’ Roy Keane on ITV: “No, no, no, all this will do is encourage diving. He (Otamendi) is dragging him (Abdulhamid) down.”

Souness: “Roy, you’re not listening. It’s a directive from the referees. This is not about opinions, this is about fact, the guy wasn’t looking at the ball.

Keane: “I’m here to give my opinion: that’s not a penalty.”

Souness: “This is not about our opinions, this is about the laws of the game.”

Keane: “I’m here to give my opinion: that’s not a penalty.”

Souness: “I’ve heard you say it 10 times, let someone else speak. You’ll learn a lot more if you listen. He’s not looking at the ball, the directive from the referees is that’s a penalty. We have to accept it.”

‘Fearless Green Falcons tear Group C wide open’

Saleh Al-Shehri celebrates after scoring Saudi Arabia's equaliser
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Saleh Al-Shehri celebrates his well-taken goal

Sky Sports’ Ben Grounds:

“Lionel Messi looked shell-shocked at the final whistle. This may not yet be a defining defeat for Argentina’s World Cup hopes but it was a humbling story to send shockwaves around the world.

“The little magician didn’t know where to turn. Surrounded at one point in stoppage time deep in Saudi Arabia’s penalty box, Messi ran out of ideas.

“One free-kick had already sailed harmlessly over the bar. Quite where the second half came from is anyone’s guess. Argentina looked in total control and appeared unaffected by the three disallowed goals during a one-sided opening period.

Salem Al-Dawsari (left) celebrates after putting Saudi Arabia 2-1 up
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Al-Dawsari celebrates putting Saudi Arabia 2-1 up

“No matter, we will score again soon – that was the misplaced sentiment. But the chances dried up. The emboldened Yasser Al-Shahrani alongside the imperious Hassan Al-Tambakti formed a wall as tall as the Jabal Sawda. On one occasion, Al-Tambakti celebrated a sliding tackle on Messi as though he had won the World Cup.

“This was their final, but no nation in Group C will now fancy facing them in the coming days. After just a second World Cup win in 28 years, head coach Renard will be confident of masterminding more success against Poland and Mexico.

“Defensively, this was as close to perfection as you’re likely to see as Lionel Scaloni threw on Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez. It was some forward line by the end – garnishing players from Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Inter Milan – but the nation ranked outside of the world’s top 50 would not be beaten.

“Al-Shahrani was forced off with a sickening head injury in stoppage time but his heroics had epitomised these fearless Falcons as a collective. The group has well and truly been ripped wide open.”

‘Deserved’ defeat leaves Argentina’s World Cup hopes in the balance

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South American football expert Tim Vickery says that Saudi Arabia’s win over Argentina wasn’t a ‘fluke’ and the better team won.

Argentina were on the end of one of the greatest shocks in the history of the World Cup after losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in their opening Group C clash on Tuesday, but perhaps the most worrying aspect of the defeat for one of the pre-tournament favourites was that it was no fluke by the underdogs.

Lionel Scaloni’s side arrived at Qatar 2022 unbeaten in their previous 36 matches, a run that included winning the 2021 Copa America, and with hopes high that Messi could finally get his hands on the Jules Rimet trophy.

There was a worry in Argentina that things had been going too well and that things would go wrong when they mattered most, but no one imagined it going wrong today.

Tim Vickery, South American football expert

Heading into half-time at the Lusail Iconic Stadium, everything was going according to plan as far as Messi and Co were concerned, leading 1-0, and yet less than 10 minutes into the second half, they found themselves trailing.

But as much as they huffed and puffed, Argentina never really threatened to blow the opposition house down thereafter as they showed a worrying lack of invention and imagination when trying to break down the massed ranks of Saudi defenders.

“Argentina were very, very close to breaking the all-time record for the number of games unbeaten, 36, and no one in Argentina was expecting this result,” South American football expert Tim Vickery told Sky Sports News after the game.

“But it ended up being deserved, this is not one of those fluke underdog wins and it is one of the all-time great World Cup results. There was a worry in Argentina that things had been going too well and that things would go wrong when they mattered most, but no one imagined it going wrong today.”

The two-time winners are not out of the tournament by any stretch of the imagination, however, they cannot afford any more slip ups in their remaining two group contests against Mexico and Poland.
Richard Morgan

Analysis: Argentina a shadow of themselves

Lionel Messi reacts during the World Cup, Group C match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium
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Messi reacts at full-time following defeat

Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness on ITV:

“Argentina never matched them. Historically you’d know they’d not be intimated. They were intimated today. The referee was allowing it to go. Join in the party, join in the physical encounter.

“They got rolled over by a very enthusiastic, aggressive, organised Saudi team, I am so disappointed in Argentina in the manner they lost the game. “That was a shadow of any Argentina team I’ve seen. They were a shadow today.”

Saudi Arabia's Saleh Al-Shehri celebrates with team-mate Firas Al-Buraikan after scoring
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Saudi Arabia inflicted one of the biggest upsets

Sky Sports’ Roy Keane on ITV:

“Amazing. One of those when they’re hanging in there, on the ropes. They get a goal back and go on to win the game. But it’s a great reminder to anyone in the game of football, if you think can just turn up and depend on your quality to get you over the line then you’re mistaken.

“Argentina, really dreadful in the second half. Saudi Arabia, all credit to them. They stayed in the game, they competed. [For the second goal] there’s no aggression. There’s bodies there, you’ve got to go and attack the ball. They’ve lacked all composure. Look at Di Maria, my god.

“You’d think Argentina would grow into it. ‘If they want a street fight we’re ready for it’. They weren’t even up for that. They were just depending on their quality and even that wasn’t at it. This desire and fight wasn’t there.

“A huge setback for them. Huge.”

Argentina lose from winning position – Opta stats

Argentina's Lionel Messi scored the opening goal
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Messi scored the opening goal from the spot

  • Saudi Arabia became the first non-European team to beat Argentina at the World Cup since Cameroon in 1990, with Argentina winning their such 13 games since then before today. They are the first Asian team to beat Argentina in World Cup history at the fifth attempt.
  • The last three teams to beat Argentina at the World Cup have either gone on to win the competition (Germany in 2014, France in 2018) or reached the final (Croatia in 2018).
  • Argentina have suffered their first defeat in all competitions since July 2019, when they lost 2-0 to Brazil, ending a run of 36 unbeaten matches.
  • Argentina’s Lionel Messi became the fourth player to appear at five different World Cup tournaments (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018, 2022), along with Antonio Carbajal (Mexico), Lothar Matthäus (Germany) and Rafael Márquez (Mexico).
  • Saudi Arabia failed to have a single shot in the first half of this game; since 1966, three of the 10 instances of a team failing to attempt a shot in the first half of a game have come from Saudi Arabia (also vs France in 1998 and Germany in 2002).
  • Lionel Messi has scored in five consecutive Argentina appearances for just the second time, along with a six game run between November 2011 and September 2012.
  • Salem Al Dawsari became only the third Saudi Arabian player to score more than once at the World Cup (two goals) along with Sami Al Jaber (3) and Fuad Amin (2). His two goals have come in different editions (2018 and 2022), with only Al Jaber also scoring in more than one tournament (1994, 1998, 2006).

What the managers said…

Saudi Arabia boss Herve Renard:

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Saudi Arabia head coach, Herve Renard says his team have made footballing history by beating Argentina, but now they have to look forward to their remaining two group stage games.

“Congratulations to these fantastic players,” said the Frenchman. “I decided to come to this country three and a half years ago and since this time I’ve had the management, amazing president and the ministry of sport were always behind us.

“Even when we visit our prince two, three weeks ago he didn’t put any pressure on us.

“This is the way you have to work in football because when you are putting too much pressure it’s not working all the time.

“We prepared very well and today all the stars in the sky were in the same line for us.

“But don’t forget Argentina are still a fantastic team. They came here without losing lose any game in 36 and they are South American champions.

“They have amazing players, but this is football. Sometimes things completely crazy can happen.

“Have a good celebration during 20 minutes and that’s it. There’s still two games – or more – for us.”

What does the result mean?

Saleh Al-Shehri celebrates his equaliser
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Saleh Al-Shehri celebrates his equaliser

Argentina came with the intention of winning this tournament and so beating Saudi Arabia always looked like a box that just needed to be ticked.

The two-time World Cup champions next face Mexico on Saturday, kick-off 7pm, where victory is vital if they are to have any chances now of progressing. Argentina need at least a point to avoid throwing their hopes of progression into serious jeopardy.

Saudi Arabia are back in action against Poland earlier that day, kick-off 10am, and a win would all-but seal their progression to the knock-out stages, and most likely as group winners.

The winners of Group C will face the runner-up from Group D, containing France, Denmark, Tunisia and Australia. The runner-up in Group D will face the winners of Group C.

Player of the match – Salem Al Dawsari

Salem Al-Dawsari gives Saudi Arabia a 2-1 lead
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Salem Al-Dawsari gives Saudi Arabia a 2-1 lead

Al Dawsari became only the third Saudi Arabian player to score more than once at the World Cup (two goals) along with Sami Al Jaber (3) and Fuad Amin (2).

His two goals have come in different editions (2018 and 2022), with only Al Jaber also scoring in more than one tournament (1994, 1998, 2006).