Robert Lewandowski’s Poland and an underestimated Mexico stand in the way, but they’ll be hard-pressed to stop the GOAT and his team from reaching the last 16.
In his fifth—and last, according to him—World Cup, Lionel Messi will be surrounded by perhaps the most complete side Argentina has ever fielded to support him. La Albiceleste won Copa América in 2021 (their first major title with Messi), haven’t lost in 35 games and are among the front-runners to win the whole tournament. Argentina hasn’t failed to make it out of the group stage since ’02, and it should have few problems rolling on to the knockouts in Qatar.
It helps that Mexico isn’t exactly cruising on a run of good form. Coach Tata Martino’s seat has grown increasingly hot after some uninspiring performances in the last few years—most notably four straight matches against the U.S. without a win.
While El Tri are certainly missing a game-breaking attacker and have an aging side overall, there’s something about this team at the World Cup. When Guillermo Ochoa puts on a Mexico shirt, the 37-year-old looks superhuman in goal. If one attacker makes his name in the group stage—and that always seems to be the case—Mexico will be back where it always is: in the round of 16.
Sometimes all it takes is one world-class player to alter a nation’s fortunes. Robert Lewandowski of Poland has spent his whole career—with the notable exception of the 2018 Cup—doing nothing but banging in goals for club and country. If the striker is on top of his game—and his form at Barcelona would indicate he is—he could upend the group.
Martino was born in Argentina and managed that country’s national team from 2014 to ’16. He now leads a Mexico side that has reached the round of 16 in seven straight World Cups—and lost each time. Get ready to hear about “quinto partido,” the curse of the fifth game.
GAME OF THE GROUP
Argentina vs. Mexico, Nov. 27
Messi has helped Argentina beat Mexico twice previously in the World Cup (2006, ’10), but El Tri have a history of group- stage giant-slaying (France in ’10, Germany in ’18).
PROJECTED GROUP FINISH
Argentina, Mexico, Poland, Saudi Arabia
ODDS (via SI Sportsbook)
To win the group (-275) | To win the World Cup (+500)
To win the group (+450) | To win the World Cup (+9000)
To win the group (+450) | To win the World Cup (+17500)
To win the group (+2500) | To win the World Cup (+50000)