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Argentina look to Messi to salvage World Cup bid

John Weaver
26 November 2022, MVT 20:30
Argentina's forward #10 Lionel Messi (2nd R), Argentina's midfielder #07 Rodrigo De Paul (R), Argentina's coach Lionel Scaloni (2nd L) and Argentina's midfielder #17 Alejandro Gomez (L) walk on the field during a training session at the Qatar University training site in Doha on November 25, 2022, on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football match between Argentina and Mexico. -- Photo: Juan Mabromata / AFP
John Weaver
26 November 2022, MVT 20:30

Argentina face a battle to stay alive at the World Cup on Saturday, with Lionel Messi and his teammates preparing to take on Mexico in a match they cannot afford to lose.

In the early kick-off in Qatar, Australia beat Tunisia 1-0, recovering from a chastening opening defeat against defending champions France to keep their hopes alive.

Two-time world champions Argentina, who arrived in Qatar on a 36-match unbeaten run, are in a precarious position after a stunning 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia.

The Argentines said they would draw on memories of superstar Diego Maradona, their 1986 World Cup-winning captain who died two years ago this week, to inspire them against the Mexicans.

"We keep him in mind. He was a very important person in world football, and not just for us Argentines," said Inter Milan forward Lautaro Martinez.

"Today is a sad day for everyone and hopefully tomorrow we can give happiness."

The surprising Saudis have a chance to prove they are no flash in the pan when they face Poland and Robert Lewandowski, the prolific striker who is still looking for the first World Cup goal of his career.

The Barcelona forward missed a penalty in the goalless draw against Mexico in Group C.

Australia, who were beaten 4-1 by France, won a World Cup game for only the third time in their history at the Al Janoub Stadium.

Striker Mitch Duke scored the only goal of a tight game with a clever header in the first half and Australia desperately held on to silence Tunisia's vociferous fans.

The Socceroos sit second in Group D with three points from two games, with a game to come against Denmark.

"As a striker you need to have that confidence and believe that you can score in every match," said Japan-based centre-forward Duke, 31.

"I actually was messaging some of my family saying that I was going to score today."

France eye knockouts

Defending champions France could book their place in the last 16 if they beat Denmark at Stadium 974, which incorporates shipping containers in its design.

The French lost defender Lucas Hernandez to injury in their opening win against Australia, adding to a list of absences headed by Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema, who limped out of the World Cup before a ball was kicked.

But France coach Didier Deschamps said defender Raphael Varane was ready to return after more than a month out with a leg injury.

Veteran forward Olivier Giroud needs just one more goal to become France's all-time top goalscorer.

Belgium star Eden Hazard admitted the nation's much-vaunted "Golden Generation" were past their best on the eve of his team's match against Morocco.

Belgium, who finished third at the tournament in Russia in 2018, are still ranked second in the world but many of the side are now in their 30s.

"To be fair I think we had a better chance to win four years go," admitted 31-year-old Hazard.

"The team was better four years ago but still we have the quality to win games and to win the competition. We have a few guys, they are a bit older now but we have experience and the best goalkeeper in the world (Thibaut Courtois)."

On Friday, host nation Qatar crashed out of their own World Cup. They lost 3-1 to Senegal while Netherlands and Ecuador drew 1-1 in the other Group A game.

An uninspired England, who won their opening match against Iran 6-2, missed the chance to wrap up qualification for the knockout phase following a 0-0 draw with the United States.

Brazil's superstar forward Neymar could miss his team's final two group games after suffering ankle ligament damage in the team's opening 2-0 win against Serbia.

© Agence France-Presse

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