Messi, Argentina under pressure for Mexico game at World Cup

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

“Where’s Messi? We broke his eye!” They sing in Arabic, using a slang term that means to shame a person.

Messi and his Argentina team are being ridiculed after a humiliating 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia this has put their presence at the tournament in grave – and totally unforeseen – danger.

Argentina need to recover immediately against Mexico on Saturday or face an embarrassing early exit.

“We’ve always said that we want to win every game,” said Messi, “and now more than ever.”

A compatriot – indeed the team’s former coach – could spearhead the fatal blow against Argentina.

Gerardo Martino led his native Argentina from 2014 to 2016, losing consecutive years of Copa America finals during that time before retiring.

Now Martino is Mexico’s coach and is trying to take the team to the last 16 – perhaps at Argentina’s expense – and beyond. After all, Mexico have lost their first knockout round match at each of the last seven World Cups, twice to Argentina, in 2006 and 2010.

This time the team meeting takes place in the group stage, but it’s starting to feel like an all-or-nothing event just seven days into the tournament.

Especially for Argentina.

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

Something has to change in Argentina, that’s for sure.

This is Lionel Scaloni’s first crisis as Argentina manager – he hadn’t lost a game ahead of Tuesday’s Saudi rally at the Lusail Stadium – and it remains to be seen how he will react. Will he give those same players a chance to make amends? Or did he see enough bad things in the first group game to necessitate some changes to his lineup?

Central defenders Cristian Romero, full-backs Nahuel Molina and Nicolás Tagliafico and midfielders Rodrigo De Paul and Leandro Paredes appear to be most at risk. Of course, Messi isn’t going anywhere from the starting XI, even if he could be used elsewhere.

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

Mexico have never beaten Argentina in three attempts at a World Cup and Martino’s worst loss as a Mexican coach fell to his compatriots. That was in September 2019 when Lautaro Martínez scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 win.

Argentina will get some victory on Saturday at the Lusail Stadium, which will also host the World Cup final on December 18th. It would be foolish for either team to look so far ahead.

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Steve Douglas can be reached at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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



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