Argentina advanced to the round of 16 at the football World Cup in Qatar after a 2-0 victory over Poland, who also made it through despite their loss after Mexico were unable to overcome the goal difference in their narrow 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia.
As Group C's top finishers, Argentina will on Saturday take on Australia who got past the round-robin phase for the first time after a surprising Group D 1-0 triumph over favorites Denmark with Mathew Leckie's goal. Reigning World Champions France lost to Tunisia 1-0 but still finished atop Group C for a date with Poland, while victory was of little consolation for the eliminated African squad.
Football star Lionel Messi had a penalty kick saved by Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny in the first half, which somehow dented his performance for the rest of the game. It was not bad; neither was it up to Messi's standards. Still, Argentina went ahead after the break with goals from Alexis MacAllister and Julián Álvarez.
The World Cup proved to be a major disappointment for Denmark after reaching the semifinals in the 2020 European Championship.
Even before Mexico's match against Saudi Arabia, the newspaper El Universal was already publishing the names of likely candidates to succeed Argentine coach Gerardo Martino. Leading the list is Hervé Renard, who coached Zambia, Ivory Coast, and Morocco.
While Saudi Arabia were yet to score through Salem Al Dawsari during injury time, the 2-0 gap was barely enough to equal Poland on points and goals, but the Europeans were still advancing on the fair-play rule, which favors the team with the lesser number of yellow cards, and applies only if all else fails to break the tie.
Poland and France will face each other next Sunday before the clash between England and Senegal.
In addition to Argentina v Australia, also playing Saturday are The Netherlands against The United States.
Messi's team remaining in contention after a shocking 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in their opening game brings some oxygen to the administration of President Alberto Fernández, who faces an increasing number of labor and social protests amid galloping inflation and growing unemployment, in addition to the ghost of COVID-19 looming over following sanitary measures adopted in neighboring Brazil and Chile, which could add to the existing unrest.