Argentina defeated Poland 2-0 on Wednesday night to top Group C and secure a spot in the World Cup's round of 16. The victory marked a return to form for the South American giants after a disappointing start to this year's tournament.
Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez's second-half goals capped a strong performance by coach Lionel Scaloni's charges at Stadium 974 – which was packed to the rafters with tens of thousands of loud Argentine fans – to set up Saturday's meeting with Australia.
After a scoreless first half, Mac Allister got on the end of Nahuel Molina's cross one minute into the second half and, despite making weak contact, had his shot sneak past Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
In the 67th minute, Enzo Fernandez split the defense with a pass to Julian Alvarez, who found space in the box and blasted the ball into the top corner to effectively end the match.
Mexico, who defeated Saudi Arabia 2-1 in Group C's other match, advanced to the knockout round at Poland's cost by their superior goal differential.
On Sunday, they will face the defending champions France in the round of 16.
Mexico return home despite a win
Mexico overcame Saudi Arabia 2-1 in an exciting Group C encounter thanks to goals from Henry Martin and Luis Chavez. Still, it was not enough for El Tri to go to the World Cup knockout stage, as Poland secured the second qualifying slot in the group behind Argentina.
Wednesday, Mexico jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in the second half as the Saudi Arabian defense appeared to collapse. In the other Group C match, Argentina also led Poland 2-0.
The Mexicans needed one more goal to surpass Poland in goal differential and advance, but the Saudis scored in the dying stages of the game to make the score 2-1.
Saudi Arabia entered the game knowing that a victory would guarantee them a spot in the Round of 16 regardless of the outcome of Argentina vs. Poland. But the stars had to align for the Mexican players, who had to win by a wide margin and pray for a positive outcome in the Poland-Argentina encounter.
In the first half-hour, Mexico dominated possession and attempted to exploit the space behind the Saudi defense, but they struggled to establish clear scoring opportunities.
El Trio's chances of qualifying were hopeless with both Group C matches scoreless at the interval. A goal just after halftime gave the raucous Mexican fans in the stadium and those watching around the world new hope.
From a corner kick in the 47th minute, Martin bundled the ball into the goal. It was the first goal of the tournament for Mexico. Five minutes later, Chavez's stunning free kick from over 30 yards out increased Mexico's advantage.
Meanwhile, Poland struggled to control Lionel Messi and his colleagues, who had a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez by the 67th minute.
At that point, Mexico needed only one more goal to advance to the round of 16. They were level with Poland regarding goal differential, goals scored, and head-to-head points, but Poland had a superior fair play record, accumulating fewer yellow cards.