The expanded 2026 World Cup may not necessarily feature three-team groups amid criticism of the proposed reforms, says FIFA's chief of global football Arsene Wenger.

In January 2017, the FIFA Council voted to increase the number of teams participating in the World Cup finals from 32 to 48, with the first tournament under the new format set to take place across the United States, Mexico and Canada in four years' time. 

FIFA initially said the new format will contain 16 groups of three teams, with the top two in each advancing to a 32-team knockout stage, but that proposal has attracted renewed criticism recently.

Several thrilling group-stage finales at the current tournament in Qatar, where Japan and South Korea advanced in dramatic circumstances and the possibility of Poland and Mexico being separated via their disciplinary records emerged, have provoked calls to abandon the plan.

The existing proposal would see an end to groups being decided by simultaneous fixtures on matchday three, but Wenger has revealed the format could yet be altered.

"This is not decided, but it will be 16 groups of three, 12 groups of four, or two sides of six groups of four, like you organise two 24-team [tournaments]," Wenger said on Sunday.

"I will not be able to decide that, it will be decided by the FIFA Council, and I think it will be done in the next year."

Earlier this week, it was also reported FIFA were considering the introduction of group-stage penalty shoot-outs under the new format, with winning teams being granted a bonus point. 

Sixteen cities were officially selected to host games at the 2026 World Cup earlier this year, with Vancouver, Toronto, Guadalajara, Monterrey and Mexico City joining 11 locations across the USA.

Lionel Messi says he did not disrespect Mexico during post-match celebrations following Argentina's World Cup victory last week after incurring the wrath of Canelo Alvarez.

Messi helped Argentina bounce back from a shock opening defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabia in Qatar with a 2-0 win at Lusail Stadium on Saturday.

Video footage appeared to show Messi catching a Mexico shirt with his foot in the dressing room after that win, prompting a furious response from Canelo, though the boxing superstar later apologised for his comments.

Messi does not believe he did anything wrong and has nothing to apologise for.

"It was a misunderstanding," he stated. "Those who know me know that I don't disrespect anyone. These are things that happen in the locker room after the game.

"I don't have to ask for forgiveness because I didn't disrespect the people of Mexico or the jersey."

Argentina wrapped up their Group C campaign with a 2-0 victory over Poland, with Mexico crashing out despite a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia.

Lionel Scaloni's side will face Australia in the round of 16 on Saturday.

 

 

Tata Martino accepted responsibility for Mexico's "huge failure" at the World Cup and confirmed his contract had now expired with little prospect of him returning to the role.

Martino has been a largely unpopular El Tri coach, and his standing was not helped by Wednesday's elimination in the group stage at Qatar 2022.

Mexico came agonisingly close to making the last 16 at an eighth straight World Cup before they were instead knocked out on goal difference behind Poland in Group C.

After second-half goals from Henry Martin and Luis Chavez against Saudi Arabia at Lusail Stadium, Mexico were tied with Poland on points, goal difference and goals scored, having drawn their head-to-head encounter.

With the full-time whistle having blown in Poland's match against Argentina, Mexico were heading out due to an inferior fair play record when Salem Al Dawsari pulled one back for Saudi Arabia in stoppage time.

Ultimately, Martino's men had left it too late to stage a recovery, and plenty of the ire was directed at the coach, whose name had been jeered ahead of kick-off.

Told of his status as a "villain" in Mexico, Martino replied: "I can't tell you anything abut people's opinions.

"I am the main [person] responsible for the frustrations we have. I'm responsible and it's a source of great sadness.

"I assume all the responsibility of this huge failure. It's been eight World Cups this hasn't happened."

Martino's contract was to expire after the World Cup, and he continued: "I have no reasons at the moment to think the future should be different. The contract expired with the final whistle and there is nothing else to do."

Chavez was asked for his opinion later in the news conference and added: "We are the players, we assume full responsibility.

"I would say in the second match [against Argentina] we didn't fully understand what he [Martino] wanted to see on the pitch.

"We defended well for some time but didn't create enough chances."

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard accepted his side did not deserve to advance with their performance against Mexico.

However, he sought instead to focus on their campaign as a whole – including the shock opening win over Argentina.

"Congratulations to the players. We did our best," he said. "Today it was more difficult for us, but we don't have to forget what we did together. I will always protect them. I'm proud of their World Cup."

Mexico fell painfully short of the last 16 of the World Cup as a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia at Lusail Stadium left them behind Poland on goal difference.

Salem Al Dawsari's stoppage-time consolation sealed El Tri's elimination, although they were already on their way out by an even finer margin.

An inferior fair play record to Poland, who had already lost 2-0 to Argentina, was set to separate the sides until that point.

Mexico still had two minutes in which to add a decisive third to second-half strikes from Henry Martin and Luis Chavez, but the goal they had chased for so long proved beyond them.

Tata Martino's men perhaps paid for not making more of a first half they dominated, going closest when Mohammed Al Owais denied Alexis Vega in the third minute.

The second period initially went according to plan as Cesar Montes flicked Chavez's corner into the centre of the six-yard box, where Martin could not miss.

One quickly became two thanks to a sensational Chavez free-kick, but Hirving Lozano and substitute Uriel Antuna saw potentially precious goals ruled out for offside, leaving Mexico agonisingly short heading into stoppage time.

Full-time in the Poland match was followed by Al Dawsari strolling through to net an effort that ultimately meant little but felt like a heartbreaker for Mexico.

Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez has issued an apology to Lionel Messi after he accused the Argentina forward of disrespecting the Mexico flag in the World Cup.

The boxing superstar reacted furiously after a video from the dressing room following Argentina's 2-0 victory over Mexico appeared to show Messi catching a Mexico shirt with his foot during the celebrations, which was on the floor.

Canelo declared "I ask God that I don't find him" but, having attracted criticism following his comments, has now backtracked and issued an apology to the Argentina captain.

"These last few days I got carried away by the passion and love I feel for my country and made comments that were out of place for which I want to apologise to Messi and the people of Argentina," he posted on Twitter. "Every day we learn something new and this time it was my turn.

"I wish both teams much success in their matches today and here we will continue supporting Mexico until the end."

Both sides went into the final round of matches in Group C with hopes of advancing to the knockout stage of the competition, with Argentina tackling Poland and Mexico taking on Saudi Arabia.

Mexico always reach the last 16 of the World Cup. It is just what they do. Progress beyond that point has been the issue.

But El Tri head into their final Group C fixture at Lusail Stadium on Wednesday at risk of elimination, needing to beat Saudi Arabia to have any chance of advancing.

Tata Martino's side have shown little sign of delivering such a result so far, drawing with Poland only after Robert Lewandowski had a penalty saved and then losing 2-0 to Argentina.

Mexico are winless in four World Cup matches, only enduring a worse sequence across their first 13 finals games.

They have not scored in any of those four outings either, with 49 attempts in that time producing just nine on target.

 

Perhaps their luck will change against Saudi Arabia, who have kept only one clean sheet in 18 World Cup matches – that rate of 5.6 per cent the worst in tournament history among teams to play 10 or more games.

"While we still have a chance, we have to try to do it," Martino said after losing to Argentina. "Saudi Arabia need to try to win and score goals, and we do, too.

"I think that in life and in this case, with these players, we are used to picking ourselves up, above all when we have to. It's hard, though; it's definitely hard."

Saudi Arabia could go through with a draw, although they will have to win to ensure they cannot be impacted by the result between Poland and Argentina.

They have only made it through the group stage once previously, in their first participation in 1994.

"I hope [the Saudi fans] won't give up," coach Herve Renard said following a 2-0 defeat to Poland.

"When you are fans, you need to support your team when it's a fantastic day. But you also need to support your team to make history in the third game. I would like to see one more time a green stadium."

Mexico are unbeaten against Saudi Arabia, winning four of their five previous meetings, which all occurred between 1995 and 1999.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Saudi Arabia – Mohammed Kanno

Kanno really stood out as Saudi Arabia might a bright start against Poland, providing a goal threat from midfield as he attempted a joint-high four shots. His support will be key as the Green Falcons go on the attack again.

Mexico – Raul Jimenez

Martino played without a natural forward against Argentina, but he surely cannot afford to do so again as Mexico need goals. They have only had five shots on target, with no player contributing more than one. After coming off the bench twice, Jimenez may now be called upon to produce at a big moment.

PREDICTION

Despite their recent World Cup woes, Mexico are strong favourites to get the win they need to stay in contention. The supercomputer rates their chances at 56.4 per cent.

A second Saudi Arabia upset of the group stage is given only a 21.2 per cent shot, while the draw – which would see Mexico eliminated and may not be enough for Saudi Arabia either – has a 22.4 per cent likelihood.

France, Brazil and Portugal are the only sides to have already secured World Cup knockout football, with numerous teams facing a nervy final matchday as they bid to reach the round of 16 in Qatar.

Pre-tournament favourites Brazil breezed through Group G with wins over Serbia and Switzerland, while France became the first reigning world champions to escape the group stage since the Selecao in 2006.

Portugal made sure of their round-of-16 spot after Monday's Group H victory over Uruguay, yet the likes of England, Spain, Germany and Argentina all need results on matchday three to progress.

The Netherlands are another big name that have yet to confirm their place in the latter stages of FIFA's top tournament, while Belgium face a tense Group F clash with Croatia to avoid an early exit.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at the permutations riding on the final selection of group-stage action in the Middle East.

Group A

The Netherlands are largely in control of Group A, needing to just avoid defeat against the already eliminated hosts, Qatar.

Louis van Gaal's side will also reach the round of 16 if Ecuador beat Senegal, who have to win otherwise Aliou Cisse's side will rely on a somewhat unlikely win for Qatar over the Netherlands to remain in contention.

Ecuador, who have impressed in their first two games, must win or draw against Senegal to progress. However, Gustavo Alfaro's men could go through in defeat if Qatar beat the Netherlands.

Group B

A win or a draw is enough for England against fierce rivals Wales. Yet, the Three Lions would still progress as long as they avoid a four-goal defeat against Wales, whose goal difference is six fewer.

Iran are guaranteed to qualify with victory over the United States, who know anything other than a win against Carlos Queiroz's side will see them eliminated from the competition.

Quieroz's men could still escape Group B with a draw, though goal difference would come into play if Wales pick up their first win at the tournament against Gareth Southgate's England.

Group C

All four teams can still make it out of an enticing Group C, with Argentina – who were among the pre-tournament favourites – needing to beat Poland to guarantee a round-of-16 place.

La Albiceleste could progress with a draw, however, and would be through in that instance if Mexico and Saudi Arabia also share the spoils.

Yet, if Lionel Scaloni's men are held and Herve Renard's men beat El Tri, Argentina will be eliminated. If Mexico win and Argentina draw, it goes to goal difference.

Poland would go through by avoiding defeat, but would be knocked out by a loss coupled with a Saudi Arabia victory over Mexico, who must win to have any chance of remaining in the tournament.

If Poland lose and Saudi Arabia draw, the two teams will have to be separated by goal difference, which will also be used if Czeslaw Michniewicz's side are defeated and Mexico win.

Group D

France are already in the round-of-16 draw and will top Group D as long as they do not lose to Tunisia and Australia do not defeat Denmark, otherwise the Socceroos would move level on six points with Les Bleus.

While victory would take Australia through, Graham Arnold's side would still reach the knockout stage with a draw unless Tunisia beat France, which would see Jalel Kadri's men progress on goal difference.

Denmark would grab qualification with a win over Australia unless Tunisia triumph over France, which would leave goal difference or goals scored to separate the Carthage Eagles and Kasper Hjulmand's men.

Group E

Spain are the favourites to progress from Group E, requiring a win or draw against Japan. Defeat would see Luis Enrique's side still go through on goal difference, unless Germany lose to Costa Rica.

Germany must pick up three points to stay in contention and would qualify as long as Spain defeat Japan, though a draw in the latter game or a win for Hajime Moriyasu's men would see goal difference needed.

A win for Japan over Spain would take Moriyasu's side through, while a draw – coupled with a stalemate for Germany – would also see the Samurai Blue make the knockout stage.

Costa Rica would earn a last-16 spot with victory and a point would also take them through if Spain overcome Japan. A draw in both games or a defeat for Fernando Suarez's side sees them eliminated.

Group F

Croatia will pass through Group F if they avoid defeat against Belgium, who require victory against the 2018 runners-up to guarantee a place in the round of 16.

Such a win for Belgium would leave Croatia needing already eliminated Canada to overcome Morocco, with goal difference coming into play to separate Zlatko Dalic's side from the Atlas Lions.

A draw is likely not enough for Belgium. They would need Morocco to lose to Canada and then rely on goal difference, though Walid Regragui's men (+2) hold the advantage over Roberto Martinez's side (-1) in the decisive metric.

Morocco would progress with victory over Canada, while a defeat would see Regragui's side reliant on Belgium beating Croatia for goal difference to be decisive between Dalic's men and the Atlas Lions for second.

Group G

Brazil have secured knockout football and will finish as Group G winners with anything other than defeat against Cameroon, who need victory against Tite's side and results to go their way to make the last 16.

Rigobert Song's men would be eliminated if they do not win, though victory is not guaranteed to secure progression as Switzerland could play out a high-scoring draw with Serbia to go through on goals scored, which is used if sides cannot be separated on goal difference – Cameroon are currently on -1 and Switzerland level in the latter metric.

The somewhat expected scenario of Cameroon losing to Brazil would see Serbia and Switzerland become a winner-takes-all clash. 

Dragan Stojkovic's side need victory to progress in that instance, while a draw would be enough for Switzerland. Goal difference would be required if Serbia (-2) and Cameroon (-1) both win their final encounters.

Group H

Portugal are already through and would top Group H by avoiding defeat against South Korea, who could still make a late charge for the round-of-16 stage should the result between Uruguay and Ghana go their way.

The permutations are straightforward for Uruguay and South Korea, who must win to avoid elimination, though qualification is not assured even with victory.

Both teams would be level on four points with victories, again leading to goal difference to separate. Yet, if Ghana beat Uruguay then South Korea's result against Portugal will prove irrelevant for Paulo Bento's side.

A draw for Ghana and a win for South Korea would also see goal difference required to split the two sides, with Bento's men trailing the Black Stars by one in that metric, which could mean goals scored comes into it.

Canelo Alvarez has issued a warning to Lionel Messi as he accused the Argentina forward of disrespecting the Mexico flag following Saturday's World Cup clash.

Argentina kept their hopes of being crowned champions alive with a 2-0 victory over Mexico, Messi scoring the opening goal with a sublime finish from outside the penalty area.

Messi has incurred the wrath of boxing superstar Canelo after footage emerged of the Argentina captain with either a Mexico shirt in front of him on the floor in the dressing room during the post-match celebrations.

As  Messi pulled off his boot, he appeared to have caught the shirt with his foot and Canelo was not impressed.

"Did you see Messi cleaning the floor with our shirt and flag ???? I ask God that I don't find [him]!!" he posted on Twitter.

The Mexican fighter added: "Just as I respect Argentina, you have to respect Mexico!! I'm not talking about the country [Argentina] I’m talking about Messi because of the b******* he did.

Canelo wrote in another social media post: "Since the Mexico shirt is on the ground, it's already an insult. Stop b*******ing about what was or wasn't."

Argentina go into their final Group C game against leaders Poland knowing a win will put them into the round of 16, while a draw will be sufficient if Mexico draw with Saudi Arabia.

Mexico need a win to have any chance of progressing, while they also need a helping hand from Poland. 

Saudi Arabia captain Salman Al Faraj has been ruled out for the remainder of the World Cup through injury.

The Al Hilal defender injured his leg in Tuesday's shock 2-1 win over Argentina and left the stadium on crutches.

Al Faraj did not feature in Saudi Arabia's 2-0 loss to Poland in their second Group C contest on Saturday and will play no further part in their Qatar 2022 campaign.

A Saudi statement confirmed the news on Sunday and added Al Faraj, who has been capped 71 times for his country, will undergo a full recovery programme.

Saudi Arabia are also without Yasser Al Shahrani after he underwent emergency surgery following a horror collision with team-mate Mohammed Al Owais against Argentina.

Herve Renard's side face Mexico in their final group match and will advance to the last 16 if they win, while a draw will be enough should Poland defeat Argentina.

Should Saudi Arabia draw and Argentina beat Poland, it will then come down to goal difference to determine who progresses to the knockout stage.

Ghosts everywhere. In the stands, where the spectre of Diego Maradona was waving his fists, wondering how Argentina could put in such a vapid performance.

On the pitch, where the shadows of Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain were sprinting through the middle, looking for a pass or clearing a path for Lionel Messi.

The ghosts of Argentina's past haunted them for large parts of Saturday's game against Mexico, as the present almost became a living nightmare.

Lionel Scaloni's team were in dire danger of heading out of this World Cup after two games, the champions of South America last year vulnerable to a humbling on the global stage, until a flash of Messi magic changed everything.

A swish of that left boot from 25 yards, and the ball zipped into the bottom-right corner. It had to be him.

On the night Messi matched Maradona's Argentina record of 21 World Cup appearances, he also moved level with El Diego on eight goals in his career at the finals, two behind national team record holder Gabriel Batistuta. For Messi, those World Cup goals have all come in the group stage, something he came to Qatar to change and still might.

Losing to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday was bad enough for Argentina, but at least there would be a reaction against the Mexicans. Perhaps it might be the spur they needed, and perhaps it could still be Messi's World Cup.

Those were theories that were widely voiced, yet for an hour they looked to be utter bunkum.

Even at 90 minutes, with a 2-0 scoreline barely reflecting the flow of the game, you were left fearing Argentina might find a way to trip up against Poland next time out. If they finish second in this group, it will almost certainly be France waiting for them in the second round, and on the evidence so far, Argentina would be mauled by Les Bleus.

Messi and Co arrived at this tournament on a 36-game unbeaten run, but such has been their languid start you would have been forgiven for guessing they played all 36 of those games in the last month.

Here they were off the pace from the start, lacking any obvious strategy, down on energy, praying for Messi to conjure something. It had an air of Barcelona in the final days of Ronald Koeman's reign about it.

Scaloni has backed Lautaro Martinez to be his lone striker, and there might have to be a rethink on that score. Martinez has a shot conversion rate of 12.9 per cent this season for Inter, which is not ideal for a striker, and has been finding the net at club level every 206.25 minutes.

He has Edin Dzeko up alongside him for the Nerazzurri, who has been more clinical with his chances, but with Argentina it is Martinez who leads the line ostensibly alone.

This team used to have an embarrassment of attacking riches, and they desperately miss prime era Higuain and Aguero.

Martinez has a strong scoring record for his country, but he was ineffective here, his second game at his first World Cup.

When a clear chance came his way in the 40th minute, after a fine cross from the right by Di Maria, he planted a header way off target. It was his one goal attempt. Argentina only had five shots all night, which was still one more than Mexico. Their combined total of shots is the fewest ever recorded in a World Cup, based on studies of matches going back as far as 1966.

There was a moment late in the first half that looked to be typifying Argentina's night: Mexico's Alexis Vega had a free-kick well saved by Emiliano Martinez shortly before half-time and Argentina went on the break, with Messi looking to dance down the right and make something happen.

Except, those feet don't dance as quickly as they once did, and the ball was soon swept into touch. At Paris Saint-Germain, with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for company, the gradual decline of Messi is not quite so obvious. He can be a joy to behold in that company still, but when all the attention of defenders is on him, as it inevitably was this time, he was being too easily crowded out and barged off the ball.

In the second half, Erick Gutierrez hacked down Messi when he got close to the edge of the box and began to sprint, and Argentina had the chance they wanted. Messi punted it over the crossbar, and you just sensed it would not be his night.

And then Messi decided that, actually, yes it would be.

At the age of 35, he cannot win a World Cup by himself, but he can still come up with magical moments, and it was a goal for the career showreels, a stroke of familiar genius at the Lusail Iconic Stadium, which will stage this tournament's final.

For the second time in his career, Messi has scored in six consecutive international games for his country. He remains a joy of a player, and his country's biggest hope.

Substitute Enzo Fernandez added a late second goal that flattered Argentina, and it made the Benfica player, at 21 years and 313 days, the youngest Argentina scorer at a World Cup since the 18-year-old Messi announced himself at the 2006 finals. The past might still be a haunting influence, but here was a glimpse into the future.

A smiling Messi celebrated with relieved supporters at the end. For just a fleeting moment in this game, he had been afforded a yard of space and made it count.

Friday marked two years since the death of Maradona. He is Argentina's past, yet you still almost expect television cameras to pan to him in the stands.

Messi has spent his life trying to live up to the legend of Maradona, and that shared super-natural brilliance has just about kept Argentina's hopes alive in Qatar.

Lionel Messi was once again Argentina's saviour with the breakthrough goal in a 2-0 win over Mexico at Lusail Stadium to ignite his side's World Cup campaign.

Poland's 2-0 victory over Saudi Arabia earlier on Saturday left Argentina needing to avoid defeat against Mexico if they were not to exit the competition after just two games.

Argentina put their shock 2-1 loss against Saudi Arabia behind them thanks to Messi's long-range opener after 64 minutes and Enzo Fernandez's equally-as-impressive late strike.

Lionel Scaloni's men join Saudi Arabia on three points and are one point behind Group C leaders Poland, who they face in their final match, while Mexico are bottom on one point.

Argentina made five changes on the back of their opening loss, three of those in defence, and they failed to register a meaningful attempt in the first half.

Mexico went closest to opening the scoring before the interval through an Alexis Vega free-kick that called Emiliano Martinez into action.

The quality only marginally improved in the second half, but out of nowhere Messi controlled Angel Di Maria's pass and fired a low shot past Guillermo Ochoa from 25 yards.

That strike took Messi level with fellow great Diego Maradona on eight World Cup goals for Argentina, who added a second through substitute Fernandez.

With three minutes left, the Benfica midfielder received a pass from Messi following a short corner, worked his way into the box and then curled away from Ochoa into the top corner.

Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez has described the Group C clash against Mexico as his nation's "first World Cup final" as they look to bounce back from a shock opening defeat to Saudi Arabia.

The setback at Lusail Stadium was Argentina's fourth in their last six World Cup matches (W1, D1), as many as they had in their previous 25 in the competition, with the loss bringing an end to a long unbeaten streak that sat at 36 matches.

Widely tipped among the favourites to go all the way in Qatar, Argentina now find themselves at risk of a premature exit and need a response, with Aston Villa keeper Martinez rallying the troops before Saturday's clash at the same venue.

"We're hurting a lot from our first defeat [in more than three years] and on top of that at the World Cup," he said.

"We expected to play like it was a final, but we didn't do that. After we scored the first goal we relaxed a bit and we paid for that. Saturday will be our first World Cup final."

History is on Argentina's side against Mexico, with the South American's undefeated in their last 10 meetings, stretching back to the 2004 Copa America, while they have won all three previous World Cup meetings – in 1930, 2006 and 2010.

 

Scoring goals has been a problem at the World Cup for Mexico, who have failed to net in their last three matches – including a goalless draw against Poland in the opening game, where Guillermo Ochoa saved a Robert Lewandowski penalty.

The 37-year-old Ochoa, involved in his fifth World Cup, has never made it past the round-of-16 stage, with Mexico falling at that hurdle in the past seven tournaments – last reaching the quarter-finals in 1986, their home tournament.

Ochoa has enjoyed plenty of international joy with Mexico, earning 132 caps, but would trade it all to secure a quarter-final spot and equal his nation's best-ever result at the World Cup.

"Everything, I would trade everything to get to the quinto partido (fifth game)," he said following the draw against Poland.

Victory for Mexico would hand them a big boost in the bid to reach the knockout stages and could end Argentina's tournament, which would secure revenge for Mexico from the two sides' last meeting at the World Cup in 2010.

That came in the round of 16 where Argentina won 3-1 thanks to a Carlos Tevez brace, the first of which was offside and shown on the big screens inside the stadium, understandably leading to fury for the Mexicans.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Argentina – Lautaro Martinez

Inter forward Martinez was twice denied a maiden World Cup goal in the defeat to Saudi Arabia by the offside flag, having been unable to break through the opposition's high line. No Argentina player was flagged offside more than Martinez in that match (three, also Angel di Maria).

Martinez will need to be more involved in play, having touched the ball just 25 times in that defeat, lower than any of his team-mates apart from Julian Alvarez (12), who was introduced after 58 minutes.

Mexico – Alexis Vega

No player had more shots in Mexico's goalless draw against Poland than Vega (five), four of which came within the opposition box. However, he failed to hit the target with any of his attempts on goal.

With six touches in the opposing box in that match, Vega showed he will get into dangerous positions and provide an attacking threat for Mexico, though he will need to be more decisive in the final third.

PREDICTION

Argentina's loss to Saudi Arabia ended a run of 13 straight victories against non-European sides, stretching back to 1990, and the South American's have never lost consecutive World Cup matches to teams not from Europe.

Stats Perform's supercomputer expects that run to continue, with Argentina given a 60.7 per cent likelihood of a win, compared to a 17.4 per cent chance of Mexico securing what would be a memorable win.

A draw may not be enough for either side in the hunt to advance to the knockout stages but is seen as 21.9 per cent likely.

Lionel Scaloni will not alter his principles, insisting that is "non-negotiable", as he tries to plot a route past Mexico and keep Argentina's World Cup hopes alive.

The South American champions were stunned 2-1 by Saudi Arabia in their opening game, plunging their qualification for the knockout phase from Group C into unexpected doubt.

Another defeat at the hands of Mexico, coached by Argentinian Tata Martino, could prove fatal but Scaloni dismissed any notion of a change in playing style from his team.

He said: "We watched the game back [against Saudi Arabia] but now we are thinking about Mexico which will be entirely different.

"But the way we will play will be similar, we won't change our style due to what happened on Tuesday, that's clear. Mexico are an excellent team, an offensive team with a great coach. But we have a style that is non-negotiable.

"We might have taken a blow in the opening match but we need to stick to our guns and approach it in the same way.

"When you have a blow you have to bounce back and the squad is ready to do that. We know there is a full country behind us and the fans can take confidence that the team will break their backs until the very last seconds they are on the pitch so we can reverse this difficult situation."

Scaloni confirmed captain Lionel Messi has no issues ahead of the encounter at Lusail Stadium.

"He trained well and he's feeling well," he added. "More than ever we need everyone, and I am sure everything will play out. We have no issues with his physical level."

Inter striker Lautaro Martinez acknowledged Saturday's game is "like a final", but is confident the team can cope with the levels of expectation.

He said: "Tomorrow is a big match for us. It's like a final because we need to win. It will be a very important match for our future but we've proved that we have the players and the quality and for a game like this that will be key.

"There is no pressure because we rely on our work. We are confident, have trust in our technical staff and every player. We are keeping calm and confident and will do everything for our fans."

Martino, who also coached Argentina from August 2014 to July 2016, was asked how he feels about potentially robbing Messi of a final chance to win the World Cup, replying: "What would you do if you were in my place? I hope Mexico win, there's no other answer. I will do my utmost for a Mexico win."

Mexico played out a drab goalless draw with Poland in their opener and Martino was eager to stress there was plenty at stake for his team too.

"I don't think the needs [for the teams] are that different," he added. "The game is key for us as well, we only have one point. We will try to play with our own ideas but we are playing a powerful team. When we saw Argentina in our group, we did not see a situation like we have.

"After Argentina's defeat, this has become a key match, especially as we also didn't have a positive result. If we get a positive result here, we might be in a position to qualify for the next round."

The Poland squad will support an "emotional" Robert Lewandowski following his penalty miss in Tuesday's goalless World Cup clash against Mexico.

Lewandowski saw his chance of a first World Cup goal dashed when his 58th-minute penalty was repelled by Guillermo Ochoa - one of the few moments of note in an otherwise drab affair at Stadium 974.

The Barcelona striker carries the weight of Poland’s hopes on his shoulders and coach Czeslaw Michniewicz admitted he was upset in the dressing room afterwards.

Michniewicz said: "I sympathise with him. I know how a captain who misses a penalty feels.

"He was very emotional about it – we have a monitor in the dressing room and Robert watched the replays. He has to process it himself, he knows how to deal with these situations. As a squad we will help him and we know he will help us in the future.

"Great players miss penalties – Socrates, Zico, [Michel] Platini, [Diego] Maradona among others, it's football. It's a pity as I know how much he wanted to score a goal at the World Cup. I hope the following opportunities will be translated into goals."

Overall, Michniewicz was satisfied with a point with the dynamic of Group C altered following Saudi Arabia's stunning defeat of Argentina earlier in the day.

He added: "It was a very difficult game with tricky opponents. The result did not reduce the chance of qualifying for either us or Mexico. It's easier if you win your first match but it was important not to lose.

"I remember we lost our first game in Russia [at the 2018 World Cup] and it was very difficult afterwards. Everything is still in our hands."

Asked if the Argentina result would alter his approach to Saturday's now-crucial clash with Lionel Scaloni's men, Mexico boss Tata Martino replied: "In theory, I would say not.

"We must play our football and this result doesn't change our mentality.

"We need to play an intelligent game, and also understand who we are facing. We need to remember we are playing against one of the main candidates to win the World Cup.

"I also don't think they will change. Even if they had won today, they would want to win their second game. Argentina will play to win as they always do."

Robert Lewandowski missed a penalty on another night of World Cup frustration as his Poland side had to settle for a goalless draw in their Group C opener against Mexico.

The Barcelona striker was generously awarded the chance to net his first World Cup goal - referee Chris Beath awarding the spot-kick following a VAR check - but was denied by Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.

Poland offered little else in a bitty encounter with Mexico, roared on by a boisterous support at Stadium 974, far more fluid going forward, particularly down the flanks.

Mexico offered the greater threat in the first half with Hirving Lozano predictably proving their main attacking outlet.

The Napoli winger created the first chance of note after five minutes, his curling cross from the right eluding Wojciech Szczesny but Alexis Vega was unable to turn the ball home at the far post.

In a rare Poland foray shortly afterwards, Lewandowski set Jakub Kaminski free but Mexico defender Jesus Gallardo did superbly to get back and smuggle the ball to safety.

Vega came close again after 26 minutes with a header that drifted inches wide while, on the stroke of half-time, Szczesny bundled Jorge Sanchez’s cross-shot over the bar.

The second half started in a similar vein with Mexico dominating possession but their over-confidence almost cost them. Edson Alvarez dallied on the ball and it ricocheted into the area where Hector Moreno and Lewandowski wrestled before falling to the turf.

Beach initially waved play on but then pointed to the spot after consulting the monitor with replays showing Moreno had a hold of Lewandowski's shirt.

Ochoa, so often Mexico's hero at a World Cup, came up trumps again, however, diving to his left to palm Lewandowski's spot-kick to safety.

The let-off failed to inspire Mexico who huffed and puffed without really testing Szczesny, bar a routine save to deny a flicked header from Henry Martin.


What does it mean?

Remarkably, day one of Group C action ends with Saudi Arabia on top of the pool following their stunning 2-1 defeat of Argentina.

That result and this stalemate heaps the pressure on Poland and Mexico as they look to advance to the knockout stages.

Mexico boss Tata Martino will be frustrated by the result if not the performance which arguably deserved more.

More World Cup frustration for Lewandowski

Even discounting his penalty miss, Lewandowski had a night to forget. The spot-kick was his first meaningful touch in Poland's penalty area and he suffered from a lack of service from a hard-working but sterile midfield. 

The one moment of quality from the Barcelona man came early on with a nice turn and pass to release Kaminski but his team-mate was unable to convert.

Ochoa still a genius

Described as a "genius" by Szczesny at the pre-match press conference, Ochoa again displayed his ability to shine on the biggest stage.

His main moment came with the penalty save but, that aside, he showed all his experience by dealing comfortably with Poland's limited attack.

What's Next?

Both teams are back in action on Saturday. Mexico take on Argentina, smarting from their stunning defeat to Saudi Arabia, while Poland meet Herve Renard's buoyant side.

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