Second-half goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez helped Argentina secure their last-16 place with a 2-0 victory over Poland, despite Lionel Messi’s earlier penalty miss at Stadium 974.
La Albiceleste topped Group C while despite defeat, due to Mexico’s 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia, the Poles snatched second place by virtue of a superior goal difference to El Tri.
Although Wojciech Szczesny brilliantly saved Messi’s first-half spot-kick, Mac Allister and Alvarez struck after the break as Argentina advanced from the group phase for the 13th time in 14 attempts.
However, due to Saudi Arabia’s late goal against Mexico, Poland joined Argentina in the knockout stage courtesy of superior goal difference, progressing to the round of 16 for the first time since 1986.
Argentina dominated first-half proceedings, Messi drawing smart reflexes from Szczesny and Marcos Acuna drilling marginally wide from 20 yards, with Poland offering little at the other end.
La Albiceleste were awarded a penalty six minutes before the break when Szczesny was deemed to have fouled Messi but the Juventus goalkeeper, having kept out Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al Dawsari on Saturday, made amends with a magnificent save.
Scaloni’s side broke through within a minute of the restart; Mac Allister arriving to steer Nahuel Molina’s cross into the far corner.
Kamil Glik headed wide for Poland at the other end before Argentina doubled their lead in the 67th minute as a patient build-up culminated in Enzo Fernandez finding Alvarez, who turned before firing into the top corner.
Lautaro Martinez almost added a third goal before Nicolas Tagliafico was denied on the line by Jakub Kiwior but, as news filtered through of the result elsewhere in Group C, both sides could celebrate the continuation of their World Cup journey after the final whistle.
What does it mean? Both sides advance to the last 16
Argentina needed to win to avoid a first World Cup group-stage exit since 2002 and they did just that following a dominant performance in which they enjoyed a whopping 73.3 per cent of possession.
Poland had to rely on results elsewhere, but that will not bother the Eagles as they ended their 36-year wait to progress beyond the group phase.
The Argentina captain created more history as he made his 22nd World Cup appearance, surpassing the late Diego Maradona’s long-standing record for La Albiceleste.
But after seeing his penalty saved, he also became just the second player to fail to score with two spot-kicks at the finals since 1966 (excluding shoot-outs), along with Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan — who missed twice in 2010.
Deja vu for Szczesny
Having brilliantly kept out Saudi Arabia’s Al Dawsari from 12 yards last time out, Szczesny then produced magnificent reflexes to deny Messi after being harshly penalised by VAR.
Excluding shoot-outs, he subsequently became the third goalkeeper to save two penalties at a single World Cup, after Brad Friedel (2002) and compatriot Jan Tomaszewski (1974).
Both nations will play their last-16 ties this weekend. Argentina face Australia at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on Saturday, with Poland taking on France the following day.
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