Qatar 2022: Argentina v Poland preview: Messi and Lewandowski’s World Cup dreams in the balance

Argentina beat Mexico 2-0 to salvage their campaign and sit second, level on three points with the Saudis and one behind leaders Poland and only a win will guarantee that 35-year-old Messi’s Qatar campaign continues into December.

Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski head into Wednesday’s showdown between Argentina and Poland with the futures of what could be their final World Cup adventures hanging in the balance.

Either one of two of the biggest stars of European club football could fail to qualify for the knockout stages in Qatar and end their careers without tasting glory at the most prestigious tournament of all.

Messi has already netted twice in his last attempt to emulate Diego Maradona and win the World Cup for Argentina and is trying to drag the Albiceleste out of Group C after they were stunned by Saudi Arabia in their opening match.

An Argentine exit would devastate fans back home and a worldwide army of Messi fans desperate to see him lift the World Cup.  It would also be a fitting climax to the career of one of football’s greatest ever players, but coach Lionel Scaloni sees such histrionics as unnecessary.

“It’s hard to make people understand that the sun will rise tomorrow, win or lose,” he said after his side beat Mexico to get their challenge back on track.

Lewandowski was brought to tears by fulfilling his “childhood dream” of scoring his first ever World Cup goal in what was his fifth match at the finals, a 2-0 win over the Saudis. The Barcelona forward knows he might not get another chance on this stage should the Poles exit the tournament on Wednesday.

“I’m aware it might be my last World Cup and I wanted to be able to say that I’ve played and scored at World Cups,” said the 34-year-old.

Lewandowski is a safer bet to make the last 16 as Poland will be through with a win or a draw, and even if they lose they are only sure to be knocked out if the Saudis beat Mexico.

Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz insisted it wasn’t simply a contest between the forwards despite the inevitable focus on the two big stars.

“It’s not only a match between Lewandowski and Messi, it’s not tennis,” he said.

Poland’s strengths at the back have been evident in Qatar, as they are one of only two nations who are yet to concede a goal after their first two group matches. Indeed, the Eagles have now kept a clean sheet in each of their last four internationals.

Head to Head

However, keeping Argentina quiet could prove challenging for Poland, as they have conceded in each of their 11 previous meetings with the two-time world champions. Their last encounter against La Albiceleste was successful, though, as they secured a 2-1 friendly win back in 2011.

 

Victory for Poland on Wednesday would secure top spot in Group C and guarantee their place in the last 16, while a draw could also be enough to finish at the summit if Saudi Arabia fail to beat Mexico. However, defeat will end their World Cup journey if Saudi Arabia claim maximum points.

Argentina, who have progressed to the knockout rounds in 12 of the last 13 World Cup finals, have lost their last two meetings with European nations, both of which were at the 2018 tournament in Russia, when a 3-0 group-stage defeat to Croatia was followed by the aforementioned loss to France in the last 16.

Argentina will finish at the summit of Group C and qualify for the knockout rounds if they secure all three points against Poland, and if Saudi Arabia fail to beat Mexico by a larger margin than Scaloni’s side. A draw, meanwhile, could be enough for them to progress in second place if Saudi Arabia fail to win.

 

Team News

Poland boss Michniewicz is expected to name an unchanged starting lineup against Argentina, with Arkadiusz Milik set to continue his partnership in attack with Lewandowski.

Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – who saved a first-half penalty in the win over Saudi Arabia – is set to be protected by a back four of Matty Cash, Kamil Glik, Jakub Kiwior and Bartosz Bereszynski, who all started Poland’s first two Group C fixtures.

Grzegorz Krychowiak, who is just four appearances away from receiving his 100th international cap, could be joined in centre-midfield by seven-cap Birmingham City man Krystian Bielik, while Zielinski and Przemyslaw Frankowski are set to operate on the flanks.

As for Argentina, Scaloni could tinker with his starting lineup once again, with alterations expected in defence and midfield in particular.

Lisandro Martinez could retain his place at centre-back alongside Nicolas Otamendi, but the full-back spots are up for grabs, with Gonzalo Montiel, Nahuel Molina and Juan Foyth all battling for a place at right-back, while one of Nicolas Tagliafico or Marcos Acuna is set to get the nod at left-back.

Fernandez has made an impression as a second-half substitute in both of Argentina’s first two group games and the 21-year-old could be handed his first start of the tournament in centre-midfield, while Leandro Paredes will also be pushing to start after being dropped to the bench against Mexico.

Lautaro Martinez and Angel Di Maria are the two most likely candidates to continue in attack with Messi, but Julian Alvarez and Paulo Dybala will both be hoping to force their way into the first XI.

Poland possible starting lineup:

Szczesny; Cash, Glik, Kiwior, Bereszynski; Zielinski, Bielik, Krychowiak, Frankowski; Milik, Lewandowski

Argentina possible starting lineup:

Martinez; Molina, Otamendi, Li. Martinez, Tagliafico; Fernandez, Paredes, De Paul; Messi, La. Martinez, Di Maria

Prediction Poland 1-2 Argentina

Source: norvan report

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