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Argentina beat a thoroughly wretched Poland 2-0 to clinch top spot in the group – though both made it through to the World Cup 2022 round of 16.
The best chances of the first 45 minutes all fell the way of Argentina’s forwards, but Julian Alvarez saw a close-range strike blocked, Marcos Acuña smashed an effort just wide and, most notably, Lionel Messi saw a penalty saved after a controversial VAR call.
However, just one minute after the restart the South Americans did take the lead – Alexis Mac Allister steering in from a cut-back for his first senior international goal.
Kamil Glik headed wide as Poland tried for a quick response but they offered absolutely nothing else in one of the most defensive-minded performances of the tournament, yet it proved enough as they took second on goal difference.
Here are the player ratings from the Group C clash.
Wojciech Szczesny, 8. A second penalty save of the tournament, this time denying Messi. Superb one-handed stop. Couldn’t stretch enough to save Mac Allister’s opener but had a very good tournament. Got fingertips to the second goal.
Matty Cash, 5. Started well getting forward a little, but they very quickly started to sit really deep as a team and he was ineffective thereafter.
Kamil Glik, 6. Glanced a header wide at one end and made countless blocks on Messi and Alvarez. Stood up to the task well initially – but his team needed to relieve the pressure more. Inevitably, it told.
Jakub Kiwior, 4. Less capable of keeping tight to his markers than his centre-back partner. Made a couple of important clearances but run past with ease too at times.
Bartosz Bereszynski, 3. Made some block challenges on Di Maria but was run ragged more often than not. Barely ever ventured beyond the halfway line.
Przemyslaw Frankowski, 4. Basically an extra body in front of the defence and did a lot of running without seeing much of the ball. Subbed at the break.
Krystian Bielik, 2. A defensive midfielder who did not do very much defending in truth. Side to side to try and close out spaces but run past, bypassed and passed past with regularity.
Grzegorz Krychowiak, 4. Marginally better than Bielik by virtue of making a few challenges on the edge of the box but also picked up a yellow card.
Piotr Zielinski, 4. Hard working, lots of running, poor passing out and rarely pushing up in support. Basically, he summed up Poland’s approach in a nutshell.
Karol Swiderski, 4. Was supposed to be the support forward; played half the game and made four tackles, took no shots, made no passes to set up shots for others either. Off at the break.
Robert Lewandowski, 2. Isolated, bereft of service, unable to hold up play and never in a place to score.
Subs: M Skoras 4, J Kaminski 3, D Szymanski 3, A Jedrzejczyk 3, K Piatek n/a
(AFP via Getty Images)
Emi Martínez, 6. Had the best seat in the house, and might as well have been sat in the stands anyway.
Nahuel Molina, 7. Good surging runs from deep initially, then realised he could just stand high and not get back into position. A few decent deliveries.
Cristian Romero, 7. Made a couple of challenges early on to stop the few Poland counters and then simply mopped up loose balls from deep.
Nicolas Otamendi, 7. Crunched into a couple of tackles. Passed it quickly from the back. Frowned a lot.
Marcos Acuña, 8. Almost opened the scoring with an absolute rasper in the first half and got forward to really good effect on multiple occasions.
Rodrigo De Paul, 8. Well over 150 touches during the game as he continually dictated where Argentina would start building up from and who would be involved. Utterly untouched by Poland’s midfield.
Enzo Fernandez, 8. First start at the finals and dominated a lot of the game. Really smart, quick passing.
Alexis Mac Allister, 8. Made the all-important breakthrough with a really neat finish into the far corner. Some fine build-up work and almost netted another.
Lionel Messi, 8. Saw his penalty saved but shouldn’t have had it anyway. Always involved, very quick to take people on and created plenty.
Julian Alvarez, 9. Wasted one early chance but thumped in a brilliant finish in the second half. Looks to be really growing into the tournament now – should keep his place.
Angel Di María, 7. Involved, but never really found the end product with his running down the flanks.
Subs: L Paredes 7, N Tagliafico 7, L Martinez 5, G Pezzella n/a, T Almada n/a