17/04/2024

After a 2-0 win over Poland, Argentina will take on the Socceroos in the Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup.(Photo: FIFA WORLD CUP - Twitter)

A relentless performance from Argentina has seen Lionel Messi and co. qualify for the Round of 16 at the World Cup after a 2-0 win over Poland.

Messi’s last dance has yet to reach its conclusion as Argentina will take on Australia in the Round of 16 on Sunday. After the PSG attacker was the main focal point in attack in the first two group stage games, it was his teammates who shone on matchday 3.

The 2014 World Cup runners-up took control of the game from the outset and starved Poland of possession. From the opening stages of the contest it was clear that the blue and white were the stronger side and it would take another Wojciech Szczęsny masterclass between the sticks to keep his side in the game.

Controversy brewed when Messi was given a penalty late in the first half when minimal contact was made. After a lengthy delay for VAR the 2014 Golden Ball winner stepped up to the spot to try and give his country the lead they had been yearning for.

However, for the second time at this World Cup, Szczęsny came up clutch and made a big-time save from a penalty to keep scores tied at 0-0 at the break. This was a moment which could easily have been the catalyst for Poland and could have made frustration reach boiling point from Argentina.

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However, it was clear that the missed penalty was not on the minds of the players when the second half kicked off and before Poland knew it, it was 1-0 down. Alexis Mac Allister broke the deadlock with a neat finish just 54 seconds after play resumed.

From then on Argentina made sure Poland had its back to the wall and dealt the killer blow in the 67th minute when Julian Alvarez made a classy finish. Despite the courageous performance from Szczęsny, the Juventus keeper could only do so much as Argentina eventually scored the two goals it had deserved.

This was the first time this tournament that Messi wasn’t the star for his side.

Much of the focus at this World Cup has been around the seven-time Ballon D’Or winner attempting to carry his nation to victory in his final time at football’s pinnacle competition. However, this clash has dealt a worrying reminder to all those in Argentina’s path to the final that the 2014 runners-up are no longer a one-man team and players are capable of stepping up when their captain can’t find the breakthrough.

While he didn’t find the back of the net, Messi was still a prominent figure on the pitch and asked questions of the Polish defence. There was several moments where Messi turned back the clock and appeared to have the ball on a string as he displayed his silky ball skills.

The blue and white did not give Poland inch, as they dominated the contest with 74 per cent possession and took 24 shots to their opponents’ four. Despite the poor result, Robert Lewandowski’s side made it through to the knockout stages and will face France in the Round of 16.

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