AL RAYYAN: Two of the most intimidating strikers in world football, Argentina’s 35-year-old Lionel Messi and Poland’s 34-year-old Robert Lewandowski, line up against each other on Wednesday with a last 16 place at stake in the World Cup.

Messi has scored twice in Argentina’s extraordinary start to the campaign, suffering one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history at the hands of Saudi Arabia before masterminding a euphoric victory over Mexico.

The brilliant Argentine, whose team are one of the tournament favourites, is playing his fifth and final campaign, meaning it is his last chance to match Diego Maradona and lift the trophy for his longing homeland.

Argentina on Tuesday issued a warning to Poland ahead of their final World Cup Group ‘C’ match on Wednesday, saying they may have slipped and stumbled through their first two group matches but have yet to hit peak form.

“Everything comes down to details,” Argentina defender Lisandro Martinez said on Tuesday.

“We saw it with Messi’s goal. Before that the match (against Mexico) was very tight. We know what we are capable of. We can play better and we know we have not reached our best level yet. But we are trying.”

With Argentina second in Group ‘C’ on three points, one behind the Poles, they must win to be sure of progressing.

A draw could potentially also be enough for the South Americans too if Mexico and Saudi Arabia also end level.

Unlike their previous group matches, they will come up against a stronger frontline led by Poland’s own big-name forward Lewandowski.

“We have to be well organised so they don’t get us on the counter-attack,” Martinez said.

Like Messi, the 34-year-old Lewandowski is also his nation’s all-time top scorer, on possibly his last mission at a World Cup.

He uncharacteristically missed a penalty in Poland’s opening draw with Mexico before scoring his first ever World Cup goal in their 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia.That reduced him to tears. “The older I get, the more emotional I get, and I’m aware that it might be my last World Cup actually,” said Lewandowski. Poland, who have not reached the knockout stage since 1986, will go through with a win or draw against Argentina.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2022

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