88,966 pairs of eyes transfixed on one player, a record World Cup crowd in 28 years at the Lusail Stadium followed Lionel Messi’s every manoeuvre. And Messi, looking to rediscover the euphoria that usually his game brings, suddenly was up from his stupor, scoring and then assisting to restart Argentina’s World Cup ride.
But a win against Poland is still needed and a draw, too, could be enough if Mexico and Saudi Arabia also end in a deadlock. “We haven’t done anything yet. A slip-up like the one the other day can tarnish anything,” Argentine manager Lionel Scaloni seems aware of the danger the Poles possess.
A big win might ensure a top spot in Group C and keep France away from Argentina’s path in the round of 16. Two Kylian Mbappe strikes had helped Les Bleus to down La Albiceleste 4-3 in the same stage four years back. A draw will see an efficient Poland through. And the Argentines, who were breached by the quick movements of Saudi Arabia in the first match, must be extra cautious while dealing with Robert Lewandoski, the new Barcelona fulcrum. The presence of Dutchman Pol van Boekel, who ruled out three Argentine goals for offside against the Saudis, in the VAR console will be another worry as Poland is expected to maintain a similar highline.
Saudi Arabia can become the first team from the host continent to make it to the knockouts of Qatar 2022 if it wins against Mexico, a draw will also suffice if Poland beats Argentina and sends Messi home early. An Argentine win and a draw for Saudi will bring goal difference in play for Poland (4 points, +2 goal difference) and the Asian giant (3 points and -1 goal difference), but Mexico must win to harbour any hopes of adding to its record of making it past the group stage in the past seven World Cups.
In Group D, France is already through and only a loss to Tunisia and an Australian win over Denmark by a big margin will take away its top spot. A reinvented Antoine Griezmann, playing in a deeper role, has been a marker and a carrier forward, Didier Deschamps’s excellent answer to the missing pieces of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante.
Only a win will keep Tunisia in contention, and even then, it’ll need Denmark to at least get a draw against the Aussies. In the other game, the Danes will need a win, while a draw might be enough for Australia unless, of course, the Tunish players shock the French.
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