Argentina looks for Messi to save the World Cup candidacy

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Argentina will look to Lionel Messi for inspiration when facing Mexico – Copyright AFP

John Weaver

Argentina faces a battle to stay alive at the World Cup on Saturday, with Lionel Messi and his teammates preparing to take on Mexico in a match they cannot afford to lose.

In an early start in Qatar, Australia beat Tunisia 1-0, bouncing back from a harrowing opening defeat against defending champions France to keep their hopes alive.

Two-time world champions Argentina, who came to Qatar on a 36-match unbeaten run, find themselves in a precarious position after a shock 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia.

The Argentines said they would draw on memories of superstar Diego Maradona, their 1986 World Cup-winning captain who died two years ago this week, to inspire them against the Mexicans.

“We will have it in mind. He was a very important person in world football, and not just for us Argentines,” said Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martínez.

“Today is a sad day for everyone and hopefully tomorrow we can give happiness.”

The surprising Saudis have a chance to prove they are nothing new when they take on Poland and Robert Lewandowski, the prolific striker still looking for his first career World Cup goal.

The Barcelona striker missed a penalty in a goalless draw against Mexico in Group C.

Australia, which was beaten 4-1 by France, won a World Cup match for the third time in its history at the Al Janoub Stadium.

Forward Mitch Duke scored the only goal of a close game with a clever first-half header as Australia desperately clung to silence the vociferous Tunisian fans.

The Socceroos sit second in Group D with three points from two games, with one game to come against Denmark.

“As a striker, you need to have that confidence and believe that you can score in every game,” said the 31-year-old center forward, based in Japan, Duke.

“I was actually texting some of my family members saying I was going to score today.”

– France look for knockout –

Defending champions France could book their place in the round of 16 by beating Denmark at Stadium 974, which incorporates shipping containers into its design.

The French lost defender Lucas Hernández to injury in their opening win against Australia, adding to a list of absences topped by Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, who limped out of the World Cup before being kicked by a ball.

But France coach Didier Deschamps said defender Raphael Varane was ready to return after more than a month sidelined with a leg injury.

Veteran striker Olivier Giroud needs just one more goal to become France’s all-time top scorer.

Belgian star Eden Hazard admitted that the nation’s much-vaunted “Golden Generation” had surpassed their best on the eve of his team’s match against Morocco.

Belgium, which finished third in the tournament in Russia in 2018, still ranks second in the world, but many of the teams are now in their 30s.

“To be fair, I think we had a better chance of winning four years ago,” admitted the 31-year-old Hazard.

“The team was better four years ago, but we still have the quality to win games and win the competition. We have some guys, they are a bit older now, but we have experience and the best goalkeeper in the world (Thibaut Courtois).”

On Friday, the host nation, Qatar, was knocked out of their own World Cup. They lost 3-1 to Senegal, while the Netherlands and Ecuador drew 1-1 in the other Group A match.

An uninspired England, who won their opening game against Iran 6-2, missed out on a chance to clinch qualification for the knockout phase after a 0-0 draw with the United States.

Brazil’s superstar striker Neymar could miss his team’s final two group stage matches after sustaining an ankle ligament injury in the team’s opening 2-0 win against Serbia.

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