World Cup Group C: Argentina defeats Poland 2-0, both advance in tense finale

Argentina Poland World Cup
Argentina’s Julian Alvarez, left, celebrates after scoring a goal during the World Cup group C soccer match between Poland and Argentina at the Stadium 974 in Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Lionel Messi’s World Cup career was extended just a bit longer — and so was Robert Lewandowski’s despite a loss. 

Argentina defeated Poland 2-0 in its Group C finale, giving the South American power the top spot in the group while avoiding defending-champions France in the Round of 16. That dubious responsibility now goes to Poland — which is one it will gladly take after finishing second in the group and advancing to the knockout stage on goal differential after Mexico didn’t do enough in a 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia.

Poland has goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny to thank for keeping them alive at the World Cup. He made 11 saves against the relentless Argentinians to give the Eagles their first berth into the knockout round of a World Cup since 1986.

Nine of those came in the first half alone to keep the game scoreless in the first 45 and raise some Argentina tensions, most notably a penalty save on Messi in the 39th minute after it was deemed that Szczęsny hit the superstar forward in the face while trying to punch a cross clear out of the Poland box. 

Argentina needed just one minute in the second half to finally beat Szczęsny, though, as Alexis Mac Allister scuffed a low cross just past the outstretched arms of the Polish keeper — a perfectly-placed attempt despite the less-than-convincing contact. 

It dropped Poland’s goal differential to +1, still one ahead of Mexico after El Tri went up 2-0 on Saudi Arabia in the second half of its match. 

Poland and Mexico drew even on goal difference in the 67th minute when Julian Alvarez curled a shot off the fingertips of Szczęsny and in to put Argentina ahead 2-0 and drop Poland’s goal difference to 0. 

That whittled the tiebreaker between Poland and Mexico to FIFA’s Fair Play rules, which rewards the team with the lighter disciplinary record at the World Cup. Of course, one more goal from any of the four teams in action would have taken the decision-making responsibilities away from Fair Play. 

Alvarez and Lauturo Martinez came within inches of scoring but couldn’t hit the net before Nicolas Tagliafico’s 93rd-minute chip that beat Szczęsny and floated toward goal was cleared off the line by Poland’s Jakub Kiwior to save the European nation’s World Cup.

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