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The odds for Argentina vs Mexico have been taken from the FanDuel sportsbook, which is offering punters a generous $1000 no-sweat first bet after you create an account.
When Lionel Messi tucked away a penalty in the 10th minute of Argentina’s game against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, the question in the minds of viewers across the globe was how many goals Lionel Scaloni’s side would get.
Among the pre-tournament favorites to win World Cup 2022 with the best online sportsbooks, last year’s Copa America winners were off to the perfect start against a team widely expected to finish bottom of Group C.
What is more, Argentina were looking to extend a 36-match unbeaten run in their first match in Qatar. Their last defeat was way back in the 2019 Copa America. Messi and co. arrived at the tournament full of confidence and they had established an early lead against a Saudi team that lost 5-0 to Russia in their first game of the last World Cup.
What happened next was astonishing. The Saudis pressed from the front and held an incredibly high defensive line. It was a risky approach against opponents blessed with world-class attacking talent. But the gamble paid off: Saudi Arabia scored twice in the second half to register a famous win.
The match immediately went down as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, and one which sparked this tournament into life. That is scant consolation for Argentina, who seemed spooked by Saudi Arabia’s surprisingly bold approach.
It is not that the Albiceleste failed to create chances in the second half. On another day they might even have won the game. But it was undoubtedly a disappointing display from Scaloni’s men, who seemed to lose their composure after falling behind.
Argentina are now under huge pressure heading into the weekend. Another defeat would see them eliminated with a game to spare. That would be a monumental blow to a nation striving to be crowned world champions for a third time. The stakes could not be higher for Messi and his teammates.
Mexico’s meeting with Poland was altogether less entertaining than Argentina’s surprise loss to the Saudis. A 0-0 draw at Stadium 974 was not a terrible result for either team, although both Tata Martino and Czesław Michniewicz will have left the ground wondering what might have been.
Poland had the best chance to score a winner, as Robert Lewandowski had a penalty saved by Guillermo Ochoa. But Mexico had more possession and more shots at goal, so they too would have been somewhat disappointed by the result.
El Tri were undone by a familiar issue: a lack of cutting edge in the final third. Martino’s men have never had a problem controlling the ball during the Argentine’s tenure. But this Mexico side has often struggled to turn possession into clear-cut opportunities. In the final stage of World Cup qualification, they scored just 17 goals in 14 matches.
Mexico have a remarkable record at this tournament: in every edition since 1994, they have been eliminated in the round of 16. There were fears going into Qatar that Mexico might not make it out of the group this time around, and El Tri certainly have work to do if they are to finish in the top two.
But perhaps they will actually be better suited to a game in which they are unlikely to dominate possession. In CONCACAF, Mexico are usually the side that takes the initiative. On Saturday they will be able to play more reactive soccer, which could help them to be more incisive in attack.
The main concern for Argentina ahead of the big kick-off in Qatar was their defense. Nicolas Otamendi was a rash center-back even in his peak, which is now behind the 34-year-old. Cristiano Romero was even less convincing than his partner against the Saudis, while the team’s full-backs - Nahuel Molina and Nicolas Tagliafico - are not top-class.
Hirving Lozano could be a key player for Mexico at the Lusail Iconic Stadium. He has the speed and trickery to cause Argentina problems, especially in transition. If Raul Jimenez is fit to start, El Tri will have more presence in the penalty area than they did when Henry Martin led the line against Poland.
At the other end, Mexico’s backline will be severely tested by Messi, Angel Di Maria, Lautaro Martinez et al. That is one of the best attacking trios in the tournament, while Argentina have the depth to bring on the likes of Paulo Dybala and Julian Alvarez if things are not going to plan.
All in all, this should be an entertaining encounter. Argentina cannot afford to lose, but they will need to be brave and not retreat into their shell. Over 2.5 goals is the way to go in this one.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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