Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Argentina back on track in last 16 after World Cup rollercoaster ride

Argentina back on track in last 16 after World Cup rollercoaster ride

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Argentina forward Lionel Messi controls the ball in their Qatar 2022 World Cup Group C match with Poland at Stadium 974 on November 30. AFP

Argentina back on track in last 16 after World Cup rollercoaster ride

Argentina enter the fray on the first day of the last 16 after a rollercoaster ride at the 2022 Qatar World Cup, but after veering off the rails early on, Lionel Messi's team are firmly back on track.

After the Netherlands and the USA get the knockout stages underway on Saturday (at 10pm Cambodian time), Argentina face a favourable last 16 draw against outsiders Australia (at 2pm).

The two-time former winners bounced back to win Group C despite losing their first match in one of the great World Cup upsets against Saudi Arabia.

It was a dramatic turnaround for one of the pre-tournament favourites following the doom and gloom that met their opening result.

"I think we're back to being the team we used to be" before the Saudi loss, said goalscorer Alexis Mac Allister following Wednesday's 2-0 win over Poland.

But had Argentina ever really stopped being themselves?

Argentina came into the World Cup on a 36-match winning run and on the brink of equalling the unbeaten world record.

But after a fast start against the Saudis in which Messi gave them a 10th minute lead from the penalty spot, their fortunes quickly unravelled.

Three times in the first half they had the ball in the net only to see an offside call go against them.

Then two goals in five minutes at the start of the second half took their legs out from under them.

Suddenly, Argentina were facing the very real prospect of crashing out in the group stages.

And even though they won their next two matches 2-0 against Mexico and Poland, it was not always convincing.

Never worried

Argentina looked clueless in the first half against Mexico, unable to break down the low defensive line with a back five.

It was only after Messi found space and fired in brilliantly from just outside the box that the Albiceleste started to exert their authority.

And while they dominated from start to finish against Poland, Messi did miss a first-half penalty, meaning they reached half time with the nervy game still goalless.

It might seem that Argentina squeaked through and many questioned following their Saudi defeat whether the South American giants' prowess had been overestimated.

But if truth be told, they have only lost once in 39 matches and barring that crazy five minutes at the start of the second half against Saudi Arabia, they have hardly experienced a worrying moment at their end of the pitch in Qatar.

Coach Lionel Scaloni was certainly never worried.

"We'll pick ourselves up and win the [next] two games," Scaloni said after the Saudi defeat, a match he insisted they deserved to win.

"In the first half we played well and could have gone 2-0 up, but in two instants the game changed."

Only a marginal automated offside call denied Argentina a second goal against the Saudis in a half they had totally dominated.

They were well on top against Mexico and should have beaten Poland by a far wider margin.

Team clicking

In Messi they still have one of the greatest players in the game.

Despite his missed penalty, he has been a key figure for Argentina.

He caused havoc in the Polish defence with several purposeful dribbles and it was him who gave Argentina the lead in their first two matches.

The rest of the team now seems to be clicking and they have a wealth of options to bring off the bench.

Talented pair Lautaro Martinez and Angel Di Maria started the first two games alongside Messi in attack, but young Manchester City forward Julian Alvarez scored from his start against Poland.

Precocious Benfica talent Enzo Fernandez made a goalscoring entrance off the bench against Mexico with a contender for goal of the tournament.

He then celebrated his first start for his country by setting up Alvarez against Poland.

Two clean sheets attest to their defensive solidity while Rodrigo De Paul in midfield has improved with every match, gradually asserting ever more authority.

Argentina barely allowed the Poles a kick, their suffocating press often winning back the ball high up the pitch and quickly after losing it.

Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was their best player.

Some people said the real Argentina finally stood up against Poland, but they are not about to get complacent, even against a team 35 places below them in the FIFA rankings.

"We know they are all very difficult," Messi said of Australia. "Anyone can raise their game and win."


  • Capital-Poipet express rail project making headway

    The preliminary results of a feasibility study to upgrade the Phnom Penh-Poipet railway into Cambodia’s first express railway indicate that the project would cost more than $4 billion and would take around four years to complete. The study was carried out by China Road and

  • Second Hungary business forum set for H2

    Cambodia has asked Hungary to provide GSP- (Generalised System of Preferences) Plus facilities for when the Kingdom sheds its least-developed country (LDC) label, as the two countries prepare to hold a second business forum in the second half (H2) of this year to expand trade

  • Thai boxers to join SEA Games’ Kun Khmer event

    The Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) – together with the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF) and Khmer Boxing Federation – have achieved a “great success” by including Kun Khmer in the upcoming biennial multi-sports event on its home soil for the first time, said a senior

  • Bullets to bracelets: Siem Reap man makes waste from war wearable

    Jewellery is often made from valuable gemstones like emeralds or diamonds and precious metals like gold or silver, or valueless things like animal horns. But a man in Siem Reap has approached the manufacture of delicate pieces from a different angle. His unique form of

  • 61% of 2022 imports came from just 3 markets

    The three largest exporters to Cambodia – mainland China, Vietnam and Thailand – accounted for 60.94 per cent of the Kingdom’s total merchandise imports last year, at $18.245 billion, which was up 11.99 per cent over 2021, according to the General Department of Customs and Excise. Cambodia’s total imports

  • CPP sets out five primary strategic goals for 2023-28

    The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) on January 29 concluded its two-day extraordinary congress, setting the party’s priority goals for 2023-2028. The ruling party’s congress was attended by more than 3,000 members from across the Kingdom, including the members of the permanent and central committees,