Messi and his Argentine team are being ridiculed after a humiliating 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia that put their presence in the tournament in great — and wholly unforeseen — danger.
Argentina must bounce back immediately against Mexico on Saturday or face an embarrassing early exit.
“We have always said that we will strive to win every game,” Messi said, “and now more than ever.”
A compatriot – indeed a former coach of the team – could organize a death blow to Argentina.
Gerardo Martino led his native Argentina from 2014 to 2016, losing the Copa América final during that time for several consecutive years before retiring.
Now Martino is the coach of Mexico and wants to take the team to the last 16 (perhaps at the expense of Argentina) and beyond. After all, Mexico famously lost its first playoff match in each of the last seven World Cups, twice to Argentina, in 2006 and 2010.
This time the meeting of the teams takes place as part of the group stage, but already seven days after the start of the tournament, it seems to be a decisive event.
Especially for Argentina.
“I don’t think the result they got[against Saudi Arabia]changed the way they played,” said Martino, whose team played Poland 1-1 in the first Group C match.
With Argentina, something has to change, that’s for sure.
This is Lionel Scaloni’s first crisis as Argentina manager – he had not lost a game until the Saudi rally at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday – and it remains to be seen how he will react. Will he give those same players a chance to make amends? Or did he see enough bad things in the opening group game to require some changes to his roster?
Centre-back Christian Romero, full-backs Nahuel Molina and Nicolás Tagliafico, and midfielders Rodrigo De Paul and Leandro Paredes appear to be the most vulnerable. Of course, Messi will not go anywhere from the starting XI, even if he could be deployed differently.
“There is no other choice but to get up and move on,” Scaloni said. “We continue to think in the same vein. Before the game (against Saudi Arabia) we were made favorites, but this can happen at the World Cup. You have to work on the aspects that didn’t work out.”
Mexico has never beaten Argentina in three runs at the World Cup, and Martino’s heaviest defeat as Mexico coach came at the hands of his compatriots. It was in September 2019 that Lautaro Martinez scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 win.
Argentina will take any victory on Saturday at Lusail Stadium, which will also host the World Cup final on December 18. It would be foolish for any of the teams to look so far ahead.
Steve Douglas https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports.