DOHA, Qatar (AFP) – Fans of Saudi Arabia – and even some from Brazil – chanted in the fan parks and streets of Doha at the World Cup..
“Where is Messi? We broke his eye!” they sing in Arabic, using a generic expression meaning to bring shame upon a person.
Messi and the Argentina team are ridiculed after losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabia that left their very existence in the tournament in great – and totally unexpected – jeopardy.
Argentina needs an immediate recovery from Mexico on Saturday, or an embarrassing early exit awaits them.
“We have always said we will strive to win every game, and now more than ever,” said Messi.
His compatriot – already the former coach of the team – could have masterminded the fatal blow for Argentina.
Gerardo Martino captained his country, Argentina, from 2014 to 2016, losing the Copa America final in consecutive years in that time before resigning.
Now Martino is Mexico’s coach and is looking forward to leading the team to the last 16 – possibly at Argentina’s expense – and beyond. After all, Mexico has famously lost its first knockout match at each of the last seven World Cups, twice to Argentina, in 2006 and 2010.
This time, the meeting of the two teams comes in the group stage, but it already feels like a do-or-die event after just seven days into the tournament.
Especially for Argentina.
“I don’t think the result they achieved (against Saudi Arabia) changed their way of playing,” said Martino, whose team drew 1-1 in their opening Group C match with Poland.
With Argentina, something has to change, that’s for sure.
This is Lionel Scaloni’s first crisis as Argentina coach – he had not lost a match before the Saudis’ rally at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday – and it remains to be seen how he will react. Will he give the same players a chance to compensate? Or did he see enough bad things in the opening group match to necessitate some squad changes?
Central defenders Christian Romero, full-backs Nahuel Molina and Nicolas Tagliafico, and midfielders Rodrigo de Paul and Leandro Paredes appear to be the most vulnerable. Of course, Messi will not go anywhere from the starting line-up, even if he could be distributed differently.
“There is no other choice but to get up and move on,” Scaloni said. “We keep thinking the same way. Before the game (against Saudi Arabia), they made us the best, but in a World Cup these things can happen. You have to work on the aspects that didn’t go well.”
Mexico had never defeated Argentina in three World Cup attempts, and it was Martino’s worst defeat as a Mexico coach at the hands of his countrymen. It was in September 2019, when Lautaro Martinez 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 take place on December 18. It would be foolish for either team to look that far.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports