Argentina won Group C by a score of 2-0 on Wednesday and advanced to the round of 16 of the World Cup despite a penalty miss by Lionel Messi.
Poland proceeded as runners-up as well, but only on the strength of goal differential because Mexico defeated Saudi Arabia 2-1 in the other group match.
After a tense first half, Alexis Mac Allister’s goal in the 46th minute calmed Argentina’s nerves. Julian Alvarez then doubled Argentina’s lead just over 20 minutes later.
Wojciech Szczesny saved his second penalty of the tournament in the opening 45 minutes, but Argentina was unable to get past the Polish goalkeeper.
Messi was deemed to have been fouled by Szczesny while reaching for a cross, but he dove to his left to block the next penalty attempt.
Messi had missed his 31st penalty attempt in his career.
Despite having a top striker in Robert Lewandowski, Poland’s offensive threat was minimal.
Instead, Szczesny took center stage for the Poles, stopping Messi twice in the opening minutes.
Before unleashing a shot that soared directly at the goalkeeper, Messi first managed to escape from a group of defenders.
When he did, Szczesny was forced to make a save at his close post after finding room to charge into the Polish box from the left.
In the first half, Argentina continued to have the better chances, and Marcos Acuna missed a shot after Alvarez had also come near to scoring.
Szczesny had to make a quick stop to prevent Angel di Maria from scoring directly from a corner, and he then had to make another quick stop to stop Alvarez.
Szczesny outdid himself when he dove to his left in the 39th minute to block Messi’s penalty.
Before the halftime horn sounded, he still had work to do, blocking a shot from Alvarez and then saved Rodrigo de Paul’s follow-up.
Less than a minute after the break, Mac Allister broke the tie, leaving him helpless.
When Mac Allister cut the ball back for him, Nahuel Molina sprinted down the right and drilled the ball just out of Szczesny’s reach.
Soon after the score, Poland finally displayed some forward zeal, as Kamil Glik narrowly missed a free-kick practically immediately.
After a good combination with Enzo Fernandez, Alvarez scored Argentina’s second goal as they pressed for more.
First-time starter Fernandez of Argentina found his teammate, who evaded a defender and fired the ball past Szczesny.
With yellow cards possibly critical to their prospects of making it to the round of 16, Poland was still on a razor’s edge.
Despite Grzegorz Krychowiak receiving a booking in the 83rd minute, Saudi Arabia’s late goal against Mexico gave the Poles a victory on goal differential.