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Messi, Fernandez revive Argentina WC hopes, beat Mexico 2-0

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Lusail: Lionel Messi and Enzo Fernandez scored second-half goals as Argentina revived their hopes of reaching the FIFA World Cup knockout stage with a 2-0 win over Mexico here on Saturday.

Messi struck from long range just after the hour and second-half substitute Fernandez curled home the Albiceleste’s second goal three minutes from time at Lusail stadium.

A victory, and possibly even a draw, in their final Group C match against Poland on Wednesday will secure Argentina a place in the tournament’s round of 16. Mexico will need to beat Saudi Arabia the same day to have any chance of advancing to the knockout phase.

Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni made five changes to the team that suffered a shock 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday. Real Betis midfielder Guido Rodriguez replaced Leandro Paredes while Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister came in for Papu Gomez.

In defense, Marcos Acuna, Gonzalo Montiel and Lisandro Martinez took the places of Cristian Romero, Nahuel Molina and Nicolas Tagliafico.

Mexico, who drew 0-0 with Poland in their opener, dropped Henry Martin, Edson Alvarez and Jorge Sanchez to the bench, replacing them with Andres Guardado, Kevin Alvarez and Nestor Araujo.

Mexico had the first scoring opportunity of the match when Luis Chavez floated a free-kick into the area and Hector Herrera made contact with the underside of his boot only to see the ball fly just wide off the post.

Argentina struggled to enter the final third area early as Mexico stonewalled their attack with a five-man defensive line.

Guadalajara winger Alexis Vega had the only shot on target of a lackluster first-half, sending a curling free kick over the wall from 25 yards and prompting a smart save from Emiliano Martinez.

Messi made his first meaningful contribution by looping a header over the crossbar after Acuna’s cross from the left wing.

Argentina’s most fluent attacking move of the first half came in the final minute of injury time when Messi and Angel Di Maria combined to release the onrushing Acuna. But the Sevilla full-back’s resultant cross was cut out by a sliding tackle from Cesar Montes.

Argentina began the second-half with renewed purpose and Messi drew a free-kick when he was hacked down by Erick Gutierrez after a dashing run. However, the Argentina captain sent his free-kick from 22 yards sailing over the bar.

The large contingent of Argentine fans erupted into wild celebrations when the Albiceleste finally breached the Mexican defense in the 64th minute.

Di Maria’s pass from the right wing found Messi, who took one touch before rifling a 25-yard drive into the bottom corner.

Nahuel Molina had the chance to double the lead shortly after but his first-time effort following Acuna’s cross was miscued and flew wide off the target.

Fernandez, who replaced Rodriguez in the 57th minute, doubled the lead when he ran onto Messi’s pass and dribbled around Gutierrez before sending a sublime shot from a tight angle into the far corner.

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