Lionel Messi’s superb long-range strike helped revive Argentina’s flagging World Cup hopes as they claimed a crucial 2-0 win over Mexico at the Lusail Stadium.
Argentina came into the game knowing defeat would mean elimination after their shock 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia and they laboured again until Messi’s 65th-minute intervention.
The 35-year-old, playing at what is expected to be his last World Cup, picked up Angel Di Maria’s pass outside the box and arrowed a precise shot into the bottom corner to break the deadlock in a scrappy and ill-tempered encounter.
Messi then turned provider as Argentina made the game safe three minutes from time, his pass finding substitute Enzo Fernandez who cut inside and curled a sumptuous finish past Guillermo Ochoa.
The victory looked unlikely at times during a game disrupted by constant fouls and featuring little in the way of quality, but it takes Argentina up to second in Group C, a point behind Poland, who they face in their final game as they bid to clinch their place in the last 16.
Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni had sought to shake things up following the Saudi Arabia defeat, making five changes to his team, with Manchester United’s Lisandro Martinez and Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister among those included.
But there was no sign of improvement in a dire first half, with Messi unable to influence proceedings and Lautaro Martinez cutting an isolated figure ahead of him as Argentina, flat and disjointed, picked up where they left off in Tuesday’s game.
Mexico looked more threatening in the first period, but, like Argentina, they struggled to produce any real moments of quality, with an Alexis Vega free-kick, comfortably saved by Emi Martinez, the only effort on target from either side before the interval.
There was more of the same after the break despite the crackling atmosphere inside the ground, with a wayward Messi free kick seemingly summing up his evening as he struggled to spark.
It all changed, though, when he finally found himself in a pocket of space around 25 yards from goal, taking a touch to control Di Maria’s pass before rifling an unstoppable shot into the far corner.
The goal sparked wild celebrations among Argentina’s players and fans and there was another outpouring of relief when substitute Fernandez ran onto Messi’s pass following a corner and dispatched a sublime finish from the left-hand side of the box.
Mexico offered little in response, registering only four shots over the course of the game, leaving Argentina to celebrate a victory that maintains their hopes of qualifying for the last 16