Juan Alvarez's strike seals top spot for Argentina
Argentina, led by Lionel Scaloni, defeated Poland 2-0 to go to the round of 16 despite experiencing one of the greatest World Cup upsets ever in their initial match against Saudi Arabia.
In a dramatic first half, Lionel Messi missed the opportunity to make it seven straight goals for the Albiceleste after scoring in each of his previous six games for Argentina. The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner had to watch as Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny deflected a weak penalty shot around the post while carrying the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders. Perhaps some would argue that justice had been done because the penalty kick was controversially given after Messi was brought down by a light touch from Szczęsny.
After receiving a reprieve from the Messi error just before the interval, Poland did not capitalize on the opportunity and fell behind nearly quickly. Alexis Mac Allister's first goal for Argentina, which he swept home with his right foot from inside the box, gave Scaloni's team the group lead and the top spot overall.
The throngs of Argentine fans inside Stadium 974 and around the world were treated to a reasonably easy conclusion to the proceedings after being put through the wringer in their previous two group-stage matches. Julián Alvarez, who had nearly scored in the first half, moved inside onto his preferred and unleashed a right-footed shot into the top corner to give Argentina a comfortable lead.
With the three points all but assured for Argentina, focus shifted to who would join the Albiceleste in qualifying. Due to their superior disciplinary record, Poland, who spent the majority of the second half in second position, had to face a painful wait for the end of the Mexico versus Saudi Arabia game. In the end, it didn't matter because Poland narrowly advanced to the knockout rounds for the first time since 1986 thanks to a goal by Salem Aldawsari in extra time for Saudi Arabia.