Lionel Messi saves penalty but Argentina advance to World Cup play-offs thanks to victory


Lionel Messi converted a penalty but Argentina booked their ticket to the 2022 World Cup play-offs by beating Poland 2-0.

A failed attempt by Alexis McAllister broke the deadlock 60 seconds into the second half before Julián Álvarez’s brilliant spinning shot secured three points as Argentina took the lead in Group C.

The first match began after Messi, Argentina’s all-time top scorer, was saved by Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

Alvarez’s superb finish midway through the second half ended a busy evening for Argentina, which will now face Australia.

Poland qualified for the playoffs with minimal losses, qualifying on goal difference.

The other Group C game was spectacular as Mexico beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 but that victory was not enough for the Central American side and Poland will now play France in the round of 16 on Sunday.

Álvarez hugging teammate Enzo Fernández after scoring against Poland.

Not for the first time in his career, all the pressure was on Messi, the 35-year-old endlessly eager to emerge from the long shadow that Diego Maradona had cast on the Argentina national team.

Playing in his 999th professional match, Messi decided to rise to the challenge, worrying Poland from the first minute.

While the Polish attack gave very little throughout the game, Argentina stepped up the pressure – both Messi and left-back Marcos Acuña were close.

Argentina were given a great chance to break the deadlock when a video assistant referee ruled that Messi had been fouled by Wojciech Szczesny when the Polish goalkeeper hit him in the face with a swinging hand.

However, Messi’s penalty was brilliantly saved by Szczesny, who somehow hit the ball with one hand.

It was the culmination of a tense first half for Szczęsny, who finished the first 45 minutes with nine saves to his credit as Argentina ratcheted up the pressure.

Szczesny saves a penalty from Messi.

The penalty save was already Szczęsny’s second in the tournament, and he became only the second goalkeeper since 1966 to save a World Cup penalty, conceding it himself, after Joël Bats for France against Brazil in 1986, according to Opta Stats.

It took Argentina just under 60 seconds to break the stalemate after the break.

The canopy to the right of Nahuel Molina fell at the feet of Mac Allister, who managed to slip past Szczesny and send the Stadium 974 delirious.

It was Mack Allister’s first international goal and he continues his great year coming to this World Cup as the top scorer for his Premier League club Brighton & Hove Albion this season.

This goal seemed to relax the Argentine players and fans. Messi, Alvarez and Ángel Di Maria started to show flair by playing with the Polish defense.

In the middle of the second half, Alvarez showed why he was invited to this game – he started the first two group games on the bench – scoring his first goal in the World Cup.

When Poland opened up they tried to get back in the game, more space opened up for Argentina and Messi, Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez moved closer.

The Group C final must have been agonizing for the Polish fans.

For a short period of time during the match, Poland and Mexico were tied on goal difference. This meant that Poland had to move forward thanks to its better disciplinary record.

With Polish fans furiously checking their phones to keep an eye on what was going on and all the focus was on whether any of the Polish players had received a yellow card, the final twist came on Wednesday.

This was achieved thanks to Salem Al-Dawsari’s goal in the 95th minute, which gave Poland a superb goal difference, ensuring they qualified for the next stage.