Nov. 30, 2022, 7:56 p.m. ET
Nov. 30, 2022, 7:56 p.m. ETJulián Álvarez, left, celebrated with Enzo Fernández after scoring Argentina’s second goal of the sport on Wednesday.Credit…Amanda Perobelli/Reuters
DOHA, Qatar — It was an odd and unprecedented scene.
After a 2-0 victory over Poland at Stadium 974 in Doha on Wednesday, Argentina and its top star, Lionel Messi, celebrated having won Group C and advanced to the knockout stage. But Poland was also exalting following its loss. A lot of its players huddled on the sphere around a cellphone, after which cheered and hugged as well, an odd response following a defeat.
A 30-minute drive away at Lusail Stadium, within the night’s other Group C game, Mexico had been leading Saudi Arabia, 2-0, with a handful of minutes still remaining in beyond regular time. If that rating held, Mexico would finish with 4 points, similar to Poland. But Mexico’s streak of advancing to the knockout stage in seven straight World Cups would end by virtue of losing the sixth — yes, the sixth — tiebreaker between it and Poland: each team’s variety of yellow and red cards.
But when Salem al-Dawsari scored within the fifth minute of added time — and with three minutes remaining in the sport — the difference in yellows cards between Mexico and Poland became moot. Suddenly, Mexico had a worse goal differential than Poland and thus was losing the primary tiebreaker. Watching on the screen, Poland’s players rejoiced. Then moments later, after the ultimate whistle in Mexico’s 2-1 win, they celebrated their country’s first trip to the knockout stage since 1986.
“Sometimes defeats are bittersweet, or sweet and bitter,” Poland Coach Czeslaw Michniewicz said through an interpreter. “But we went through, after many a few years.”
The drama of the knockout stage awaits — it begins on Saturday — but Wednesday provided a tension-filled teaser. Entering the day, the mission was clear for Argentina and Poland: win and advance. But each teams knew — as did Mexico — of the scenarios during which Mexico could catch one in every of the opposite teams within the standings. If Argentina beat Poland, Mexico needed to win — and rating a variety of goals.
Argentina took care of its own fate. After losing to Saudi Arabia in its first game — one in every of the most important upsets in World Cup history — Argentina rebounded and toppled Mexico after which Poland.
Poland’s goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny, turned away shot after shot in the primary half on Wednesday, but Argentina quickly broke through within the second. Within the forty sixth minute, midfielder Alexis Mac Allister chipped in a cross by Nahuel Molina for Argentina’s first goal. And within the 67th minute, forward Julián Álvarez fired a shot through a closing window of Polish defenders for his team’s second rating.
But by then Mexico was leading Saudi Arabia by 2-0, which meant all of the teams involved were quickly readjusting the mathematics of their heads. Michniewicz said he and his coaches had an agreement during which they might not tell their players in regards to the ongoing Mexico-Saudi Arabia game “unless nothing bad happened.” At one point, he said, he did tell Poland’s captain, Robert Lewandowski, and a number of others.
Knowing they’d an edge in yellow cards — and thus the chance to advance if the scores held — Poland modified its approach. It played conservatively, attempting to avoid being too aggressive as to attract more yellow cards through hard fouls. It also tried to attain, but that proved difficult against an Argentine team that was focused on preserving the win.
Credit…Patricia De Melo Moreira/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Within the 78th minute, Michniewicz said his heart sank. The midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak was issued a yellow card for a tricky slide tackle. Poland’s yellow card margin had shrunk, and it now had five total to Mexico’s seven. Five minutes later, Michniewicz pulled Krychowiak from the sport and replaced him with forward Krzysztof Piatek for offense.
“We desired to avoid yellow cards and to attain,” Michniewicz said. “That’s why we had one other striker in. But Argentina didn’t allow us.”
Within the 86th minute, Argentine forward Lautaro Martínez just missed wide on a shot that might have altered the group standings and sent Mexico to the knockout stage and Poland home. And in third minute of added time, defender Jakub Kiwior saved Poland by heading a kick by Nicolás Tagliafico that might have also sent Mexico to the following round.
After the ultimate whistle, players from Poland and Argentina, including Messi and Lewandowski, shook hands and hugged. Although Messi had a penalty kick saved by Szczesny within the thirty ninth minute, his younger teammates helped carry the load.
“We now have a spectacular group and other people who deliver,” Messi said afterward in Spanish. “Since it’s such a brief tournament and so many games in a row that it’s good that we have now everyone.”
But after the same old postgame pleasantries, Poland’s players lingered on the sphere. The undeniable fact that they couldn’t rating late against Argentina or apprehensive about their yellow card total didn’t matter anymore when al-Dawsari scored for Saudi Arabia against Mexico. While Poland gets to advance, Mexico’s players and its coach awaited questions and criticism back home for failing to succeed in the knockout stage for the primary time since 1978.
“I assume the responsibility of this huge failure,” Mexico Coach Gerardo Martino said, adding that his contract expired after the ultimate whistle.
Added Mexico midfielder Luis Chávez, who scored within the 52nd minute: “I’m really sad because we stopped doing lots of the things from the primary two matches. We reacted a bit too late. We knew we still had hopes of qualifying but we didn’t achieve it.”
Poland did, though, and now faces a tricky road ahead: It can face France, the Group D winner and the reigning World Cup champion, on Sunday. And Argentina and Messi, in what is probably going his final try and win a title that has long eluded him, will face a neater path: They may face the Group D runner-up Australia on Saturday.
As his postgame news conference neared 1 a.m. and he kept fielding questions on his team advancing despite its poor play, Michniewicz stopped talking and looked down at his cellphone. It was buzzing.
“It’s really late and the prime minister is looking,” he said.