Argentina eased past a poor Poland 2-0 to win their group and qualify for the last 16 of the World Cup, laying to rest the defeat to Saudi Arabia in their opening game.
Poland still managed to qualify in second place, going though on goal difference after finishing level on points with Mexico.
Argentina knew they would go through with a draw if Saudi Arabia and Mexico also drew, but it was evident from the start that the only thing on Argentinian minds was a victory.
Argentina dominated possession early, and Lionel Messi was at the heart of most of their attacking play.
In the seventh minute, the instrumental Messi had his first shot of the game saved by the Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny after winning the ball on the edge of the box. He scuffed his effort, and it was a simple save in the end.
Messi didn’t have to wait long for his next chance. Three minutes later his angled drive was again saved by the brilliant Szczesny at his near post.
The number 10 then turned provider as he dropped deep to pick up the ball and played a neat pass over the top to Marcos Acuña who controlled well but lashed his shot over the bar from the left side of the box.
The Polish frontman Robert Lewandowski looked isolated as his side struggled to create any real chances.
The opportunities began to flow for Argentina though. In the 28th minute, it was Acuña again whose sweet shot from inside the box flew just wide of the far post.
Angel Di María and Julian Álvarez continued to create chances from the flanks, while the dangerous Messi was the architect through the middle. The lively Di María almost caught Szczesny out with a corner in the 33rd minute but it was tipped over the bar.
Soon after, the ball was launched into the box and Messi was caught by Szczesny’s outstretched hand in an ariel challenge. After a VAR check, a controversial penalty was given.
Messi stepped up to take it, but it was brilliantly saved by Szczesny who palmed the ball away after diving to his left and Poland found themselves lucky to go into the break at 0-0.
Right at the beginning of the second half, Argentina got the breakthrough they deserved. A low cross into the box by right-back Nahuel Molina was met by Alexis Mac Allister, and his scuffed, first-time effort dribbled into the far bottom corner of the net.
Poland had a rare chance soon after as Kamil Glik’s header from a Piotr Zielinski freekick went agonisingly wide.
Argentina began to enjoy themselves and were cheered on enthusiastically by their excellent support. They began to slice through the Polish defence at will, and in the 68th minute they confirmed their status as group winners as Álvarez whipped a stunning shot into the top corner to make it 2-0.
The game was severely one sided, and it was wave after wave of attack from Argentina. Messi should have scored in the 71st minute, but Szczesny saved with his legs. Álvarez had another chance a few minutes later but drove his shot into the side netting.
It was Argentina’s best performance of the World Cup so far, and they will face Australia in the knockout stages. The disappointing Poland will breathe a sigh of relief after riding their luck and will need a much-improved performance against France in their next game if they hope to go any further in the tournament.