DOHA: Argentina hope to restore their status as a tournament favourite against goal-shy Mexico in their Group ‘C’ clash on Saturday where both heavyweights of Latin American football need to improve on disappointing starts to the World Cup.

The Argentines suffered one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history, with a 2-1 reverse to low-ranked Saudi Arabia, as captain and top scorer Lionel Messi embarked on his fifth and final attempt to win the only prize that has eluded him.

Mexico’s low-scoring and injury-hit squad bore out pre-tournament pessimism in their first game, drawing 0-0 against Poland and only avoiding defeat thanks to a stunning save from veteran goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.

So an already spicy-looking encounter has become even hotter for both teams if they are to avoid the ignominy of early exit.

“We have to win or win,” Messi said. “It’s up to us to correct mistakes and get back to the basics of who we are.”

Those basics took Argentina on an extraordinary, three-year unbeaten run of 36 games until defeat by the Saudis.

In training for Mexico, the Argentines will be particularly focusing on how to spring high defensive lines after the frustration of seeing three goals ruled out for offside.

The ease with which the Saudis unsettled their defence in a manic start to the second half, when they scored twice, is another source of concern for Argentina.

Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa said he felt very motivated ahead of Saturday’s clash against Argentina, when he will come up against the “magic” of Messi.

“We are ready to compete and stand up. Messi has that magic, he can do nothing and from one minute to the next he can solve things and score a goal,” the 37-year-old Ochoa told reporters on Thursday.

“It’s going to be a nice challenge. It’s going to be very complicated, but what better stage than a World Cup against one of the best players in the world and history, Messi, if not the best.”

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2022

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