Messi and Argentina under pressure for World Cup match against Mexico


DOHA, Qatar (AP) — A chant circulated among Saudi fans — and even some from Brazil — in the fan parks and streets of Doha during the World Cup.

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — A chant swirled among Saudi — and even Brazilian — fans in the fan parks and streets of Doha during the World Cup.

“Where’s Messi? We broke his eye!” they chant in Arabic, using a slang expression meaning to shame a person.

Messi and his Argentina side are being mocked after a humble 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia put their tournament presence in jeopardy – and completely unforeseen.

Argentina must bounce back immediately against Mexico on Saturday or an embarrassing early exit awaits.

“We always said we were going to look to win every game,” Messi said, “and now more than ever.”

A compatriot – indeed the team’s former coach – could be behind the fatal blow to Argentina.

Gerardo Martino captained his native Argentina from 2014 to 2016, losing the Copa America final two years in a row before stepping down.

Now Martino is Mexico’s coach and is looking to guide the team into the last 16 – possibly at Argentina’s expense – and beyond. After all, Mexico have lost their first game of the knockout stage at each of the last seven World Cups, twice to Argentina, in 2006 and 2010.

This time, the teams meet in the group stage, but it already looks like a do-or-die opportunity just seven days into the tournament.

Especially for Argentina.

“I don’t think their result (against Saudi Arabia) changes the way they play,” said Martino, whose side tied their opening Group C game with Poland 1-1.

With Argentina, something has to change, that’s for sure.

It’s Lionel Scaloni’s first crisis as an Argentine coach – he hadn’t lost a game before the Saudis gathered at the Lusail stadium on Tuesday – and it remains to be seen how he will react. Will it give the same players a chance to redeem themselves? Or did he see enough bad things in the group’s opening match to necessitate changes to his roster?

Central defender Cristian Romero, full-backs Nahuel Molina and Nicolás Tagliafico, and midfielders Rodrigo De Paul and Leandro Paredes look most at risk. Of course, Messi isn’t going anywhere compared to the starting line-up, although he could be deployed differently.

“There’s no choice but to get up and move on,” Scaloni said. “We continue to think the same way. Before the game (against Saudi Arabia) they made us favourites, but in a World Cup these things can happen. You have to work on the aspects that didn’t go well.

Mexico have never beaten Argentina in three World Cup attempts, and Martino’s worst defeat as Mexico coach was at the hands of his compatriots. It was September 2019, when Lautaro Martínez scored a hat trick in a 4-0 win.

Argentina will pick up a win of some sort on Saturday at the Lusail stadium, where the World Cup final will also be played on December 18. It would be madness for either team to look that far.

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Steve Douglas is on https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Steve Douglas, The Associated Press







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