Bottom of the table and no longer a favourite, Argentina’s life has dramatically changed since those five fateful second half minutes. The grudging appreciations about a 36-match unbeaten run have made way to murmurs of becoming the first top team to get knocked out of Qatar 2022. A loss here would be the end.
A goalless draw in the other Group C game, however, has left its qualification still away from the realms of probability. The motivation is not lacking and there’s a desire to reconstruct and offer some joy a day after omnipresent Diego Maradona’s second death anniversary.
“This is a very special day and as Argentinians we always think about him. He is an important person for the national team and a global icon and it’s a sad day for us. But we hope to bring some joy with our game tomorrow,” Lautaro Martinez, whose two strikes were ruled out for offside on Tuesday, said.
Thankfully, there’s still no sense of panic and Lionel Scaloni continues to trust his process. “We don’t want to change our style due to what happened in the other game. After that emotional big blow of the first day, the group is ready to bounce back,” the coach said. “We have assessed our game and might introduce some variables as Mexico is an excellent team and have a clear game style with an offensive approach. But our style is also non-negotiable.”
Mexico, too, needs a win and Argentina has plenty to worry as the Aztecs have Hirving Lozano – on fire with Maradona’s Napoli – and the scheming brain of its former manager Tata Martino plotting a downfall to create further shockwaves.
The Saudi crowding of Rodrigo De Paul had destroyed Argentina’s shape, forcing Lionel Messi to drop deep and a similar strategy might again bring further problems. “Mexico plays with the ball with open players, and we need to counterattack and make the most of the chances that come our way,” Lautaro indicated a plan is in place.
Marcus Acuna can be brought in to use the wings which was largely ignored in the first game, and a few other changes are also expected.
The air around the Argentine camp is, of course, stifling but the hushed tones can be silenced if a win comes its way.