Lionel Messi stepped up again and became Argentina’s hero by scoring the opening goal in a narrow 2-0 win over Mexico on Saturday.
After their astonishing humiliation in the opener at the hands of Saudi Arabia, the Albiceleste badly needed a strong response and even faced instant and unthinkable elimination if they lost again.
With such pressure, Argentina again underperformed.
The first 45 minutes were spirited between the two teams, but produced few clean chances and no goals.
Roy Keane said on ITV’s half-time broadcast: “Some of Argentina’s games have been so poor – it’s like watching a league game.”
Gary Neville added: “Looking at Messi ten years ago when he was playing for Barcelona, players didn’t approach him because they didn’t think they could take the ball away from him. They almost ganged up on him.
“But the players aren’t afraid of him anymore. They go and take the ball from him, they tackle him. He finds it really difficult there.
In the second half, Messi silenced those who dared to question him.
In a moment of magic with 64 minutes played, the 5ft 7in genius collected the ball in space for a brief moment just outside the Mexican penalty area.
A brief moment was all he needed.
Messi saw his chance and blasted past Guillermo Ochoa with a perfect shot that tucked into the bottom corner.
Wild celebrations followed at the Lusail Stadium as Argentina’s passionate fan base erupted in joy.
There were pleas for calm from captain Messi to his teammates, knowing the job wasn’t done yet.
Mexico tried to fight back and there were some nervous moments for the Argentinian fans.
In the 86th minute however, Enzo Fernandez calmed those nerves.
Given far too much space on the left side, the Benfica man whipped a perfect shot into the far corner.
It was a first international goal for the 21-year-old, who swung Messi into his arms in celebration as Lusail roared once again.
There was no more drama and the full-time whistle soon sounded in a vital win for Argentina.
They face Poland in their final group game on Wednesday, with their fate in their own hands.