Lionel Messi saved a penalty but Argentina advanced to the last 16 of the World Cup on Wednesday as Group C winners after a 2-0 win over Poland.
Poland also went through as runners-up, although a 2–1 win for Mexico over Saudi Arabia in the group’s other match meant Czeslaw Michniewicz’s side only advanced on goal difference.
Alexis Mac Allister’s 46th-minute goal calmed Argentina’s nerves after a tense first half, before Julian Alvarez doubled their lead just over 20 minutes later.
2022 FIFA World Cup Points Table | 2022 FIFA World Cup Schedule | 2022 FIFA World Cup Results | FIFA World Cup 2022 Golden Boot
Argentina had failed to pass Wojciech Szczesny in the opening 45 minutes with the Polish goalkeeper saving his second penalty of the tournament.
Szczesny allegedly fouled Messi as he reached out to reach a cross, but ducked left to clear away the resulting penalty.
It was the 31st penalty that Messi had not converted in his career.
Poland presented little offensive threat, with star striker Robert Lewandowski virtually anonymous.
Instead, it was left to Szczesny to take center stage for the Poles and deny Messi two crucial early stops.
First, Messi squeezed away from a group of defenders before producing a shot that flew straight at the keeper.
Then he found space to charge into the Polish box on the left, forcing Szczesny to make a save on his near post.
Argentina continued to create the better chances in the first half and Marcos Acuna flashed a shot wide after Alvarez also broke the deadlock.
Szczesny had to rush to prevent Angel di Maria from scoring directly from a corner before the goalkeeper was called into action again to stop Alvarez.
– Penalty kicks –
Szczesny outdid himself when he dove left in the 39th minute to save Messi’s penalty.
He had more to do before the half-time whistle, knocking away an Alvarez shot before saving Rodrigo de Paul’s follow-up.
There was nothing he could do when Mac Allister broke the deadlock less than a minute into the break.
Nahuel Molina charged to the right and cut the ball back to allow Mac Allister to drill just out of reach of Szczesny.
The goal forced Poland to some late attacking ambition and Kamil Glik headed just wide from a free kick almost immediately after the restart.
Also read | FIFA World Cup 2022: Tunisia stun France but fail to qualify for 16th round
Argentina continued to look for more goals and Alvarez scored their second after a good combination with Enzo Fernandez.
Fernandez, making his first start for Argentina, singled out his teammate, who stopped a defender before hitting the ball past Szczesny.
Poland were still walking a tightrope with yellow cards potentially crucial to their chances of reaching the last 16.
Grzegorz Krychowiak entered the book in the 83rd minute, but a late goal for Saudi Arabia against Mexico saw the Poles through safely on goal difference.
Read all the latest sports news here