Messi, Argentina under pressure for Mexico’s World Cup match

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — A chant has been swirling among supporters of Saudi Arabia, and even some of Brazil, in the parks and streets of Doha at the World Cup..

“Where is Messi? We broke his eye!” they sing in Arabic, using a slang expression that means to embarrass a person.

Messi and his Argentine team are being teased after a humiliating 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia that has left his presence in the tournament in great danger, and completely unforeseen.

Argentina need to bounce back immediately against Mexico on Saturday, otherwise they are in for an embarrassing early exit.

“We always said that we were going to try to win every game,” Messi said, “and now more than ever.”

A compatriot, in fact the former coach of the team, could be the mastermind of the fatal blow for Argentina.

Gerardo Martino managed his native Argentina from 2014 to 2016, losing the Copa América final in consecutive years before retiring.

Now Martino is the coach of Mexico and looks to guide the team to the round of 16, perhaps at the expense of Argentina, and beyond. After all, Mexico has lost its first knockout game in each of the last seven World Cups, twice against Argentina, in 2006 and 2010.

This time the teams meet in the group stage, but it already has the feeling of a do-or-die occasion just seven days after the tournament.

Especially for Argentina.

“I don’t think the result they got (against Saudi Arabia) will change the way they play,” said Martino, whose team drew its Group C opener with Poland 1-1.

With Argentina something has to change, that’s for sure.

This is Lionel Scaloni’s first crisis as Argentina manager – he had not lost a game before the Saudis’ rally at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday – and it remains to be seen how he reacts. Will it give the same players a chance to make amends? Or did he see enough bad things in the first group game to need some lineup changes?

Central defender 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 lineup, even if he could deploy differently.

“There is no other option but to get up and move on,” Scaloni said. “We continue to think the same way. Before the game (against Saudi Arabia) they made us favourites, but in a World Cup these things can happen. You have to work on the aspects that didn’t go well”.

Mexico has never beaten Argentina in three attempts at the World Cup, and Martino’s worst defeat as Mexico coach came at the hands of his compatriots. That was in September 2019, when Lautaro Martínez scored a hat trick in a 4-0 win.

Argentina will get a win of any kind on Saturday at Lusail Stadium, where the World Cup final will also be played on December 18. It would be crazy for either team to look that far.

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Steve Douglas is 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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