Lionel Messi missed a dodgy first half penalty but Argentina turned up the style in the second half to certify their place in the last-16.
Argentina came into the game against Poland knowing their fate was in their hands. Get all three points against Poland and win the group, setting up a last-16 tie with Australia. For the Polish team, a point was enough to see them through to the knockout stages for the first time since 1986.
From the opening whistle, the pattern of the game was clear.. Poland were set up to not concede leaving just Robert Lewandowski in the Argentina half at times. Argentina would have to work hard to get behind their defence.
However in the 39th minute, the Albiceleste were awarded a penalty after Wojciech Szczęsny was deemed to have fouled Messi in the box. With goals in each of his last 6 appearances for his country, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner was hoping to make it 7 straight but unfortunately saw his penalty saved by the Juventus goalkeeper.
Thanks to their goalkeeper, Poland’s plan was working so far.
The second half came around and Argentina flew out of the blocks. Their deserved opener came right after the restart when Brighton midfielder Alexis Mac Allister connected with a cross from Nahuel Molina with a first-time shot that found its way past Szczesny and off the far post.
Twenty minutes later, Argentina doubled their lead when Julian Alvarez found space in the box and hit a fierce right-footed strike into the top corner. The stadium erupted as the realization hit, despite losing to Saudi Arabia in their opening game, Argentina had won their group.
With Argentina through, Polish fans became just as interested in the game between Mexico and Saudi Arabia.
Coming into the final group games, Mexico had just one point compared to Poland’s 4 but with the North American team leading Saudi Arabia by two goals to nil, both teams were now tied on points. To make matters worse, they were also tied on goal difference with the same number of goals scored and goals conceded. It looked like FIFA’s fair play tie breaker was going to be the decider on who escaped the group along with Argentina.
For those unfamiliar, the fair play tiebreaker is decided on “Fair Play Conduct Points,” a system that rewards teams that don’t collect yellow and red cards. Each team starts the tournament with zero points. It is given one point for each player’s initial yellow card; three points for each secondary yellow that leads to a red card, or for a straight red card given to a player who doesn’t have a yellow; and four points for a straight red card given to a player who does have a yello. A system that saw Senegal lose out of the knockout rounds back in 2018 to Japan.
In the end, it didn’t come to that, as Salem Aldawsari snatched a goal back for the Saudis deep into added time to give Poland sole possession of the second spot in the group.
Argentina face Australia in the last-16 on December 3, while Poland have it all to do against France on December 4.