After being stunned by Saudi Arabia in their opening game, Argentina went into the game knowing that a defeat would end their campaign in Qatar. And the pressure played on them as they could not break the deadlock in the first half, which ended 0-0.
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But a different Argentina started in the second half led by their charismatic skipper Messi, who put them in the lead with a stunning strike in the 64th minute. The South American side kept searching for the second goal and did not let the pressure released from the Mexican defence line. Their intent paid off in the 87th minute when substitute Fernandez scored through a beautiful curling shot.
The win kept Argentina’s hopes to progress into the next round alive as they moved up to the second spot in the group standings with three points, ahead of Saudi Arabia on goal difference. Poland are on top with four points, and Mexico are at fourth with one point after the second round of matches.
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Messi, who equalled Diego Maradona‘s Argentina record of 21 World Cup matches, was nowhere to be seen for more than an hour before picking up an Angel Di Maria pass, finding just enough space and rifling in with his left foot from 20 metres.
Substitute Fernandez made sure of the three points when he curled a superb shot into the top corner in the 87th minute.
With the prospect of an Argentina elimination, tensions were high on and off the ball in a scrappy first half but with the two sets of fans creating an electric atmosphere in the stadium.
The opening period did not live up to the match’s billing with neither team wanting to commit too many players forward and apart from a free kick by Mexico’s Luis Chavez in the ninth minute that sailed past the goalmouth, there were few chances.
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Mexico’s high pressing game stifled most of their opponents’ attack and Argentine talisman Messi struggled to find any space to manoeuvre in a congested midfield.
Apart from a Lautaro Martinez effort that was well off the mark and another from Messi, Argentina were toothless up front.
But in a major blow to Mexico, skipper Andres Guardado, a veteran of five World Cups who until then had been a commanding presence in midfield, had to be taken off injured in the 42nd.
The Mexicans still carved out two more chances before the break with Alexis Vega first curling a free kick over the wall for keeper Emiliano Martinez to save and minutes later thundering a shot over the bar.
The South Americans looked more determined after the break but had no real chance before their 35-year-old captain dragged them out of trouble with his second goal of the tournament.
The stadium erupted in cheers once more with Fernandez’s late strike which sealed Argentina’s first win in the tournament and rekindled Messi’s hopes of a first ever World Cup title.
The result restored order for the Argentines in Group C and they can guarantee progress with a win over Poland in their final game on Wednesday. Mexico, who have now lost all four World Cup clashes with Argentina, must beat Saudi Arabia to have any chance of continuing their run of making the last 16 in the last seven World Cups, but even that might not be enough.
(With inputs from agencies)