Argentina will be looking to leapfrog Poland to the top of Group C and qualify for the last 16 of the 2022 World Cup when they do battle at Stadium 974 on Wednesday.
The two-time world champions currently sit level on three points with Saudi Arabia, just one point behind Poland at the summit heading into their final group fixture.
At the age of 34, Robert Lewandowski finally celebrated his first World Cup goal at the fifth time of asking as Poland secured a 2-0 victory against Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
After missing a penalty in the goalless draw with Mexico, the Barcelona striker redeemed himself when he capitalised on a defensive error to wrap up the points for the Eagles eight minutes from time, after Piotr Zielinski had opened the scoring on the stroke of half time.
Lewandowski said after the match that he has now ‘fulfilled his dream’ on the biggest international stage, but there is still unfinished business for both himself and his teammates, with Czeslaw Michniewicz’s side bidding to reach the last 16 of the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
Poland’s strengths at the back have been evident in Qatar, as they are one of only two nations who are yet to concede a goal after their first two group matches at the time of writing. Indeed, the Eagles have now kept a clean sheet in each of their last four internationals.
However, keeping Argentina quiet could prove challenging for Poland, as they have conceded in each of their 11 previous meetings with the two-time world champions. Their last encounter against La Albiceleste was successful, though, as they secured a 2-1 friendly win back in 2011.
Victory for Poland on Wednesday would secure top spot in Group C and guarantee their place in the last 16, while a draw could also be enough to finish at the summit if Saudi Arabia fail to beat Mexico. However, defeat will end their World Cup journey if Saudi Arabia claim maximum points.
Four days on from their shock 2-1 defeat against Saudi Arabia, Argentina boosted their hopes of reaching the knockout rounds courtesy of a crucial 2-0 victory against Mexico on Saturday.
After an underwhelming first-half showing, star man Lionel Messi stepped up when it mattered, with the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner breaking the deadlock in the 64th minute with a low-driven strike from outside the area, before setting up Enzo Fernandez in the closing stages to secure their first three points in Group C.
Jubilant scenes were sparked in the dressing room after full time and Lionel Scaloni’s men – regarded by many as one of the pre-tournament favourites to go all the way in Qatar – appear to have restored their belief heading into their final group clash with Poland.
Indeed, Argentina could do with claiming maximum points from Saturday’s contest with the Poles if they are to avoid finishing second in Group C, which could result in a potentially difficult last-16 tie with holders France, who beat La Albiceleste 4-3 in a thrilling showdown at this stage four years ago.
Argentina, who have progressed to the knockout rounds in 12 of the last 13 World Cup finals, have lost their last two meetings with European nations, both of which were at the 2018 tournament in Russia, when a 3-0 group-stage defeat to Croatia was followed by the aforementioned loss to France in the last 16.
Argentina will finish at the summit of Group C and qualify for the knockout rounds if they secure all three points against Poland, and if Saudi Arabia fail to beat Mexico by a larger margin than Scaloni’s side. A draw, meanwhile, could be enough for them to progress in second place if Saudi Arabia fail to win.
Poland boss Michniewicz is expected to name an unchanged starting lineup against Argentina, with Arkadiusz Milik set to continue his partnership in attack with Lewandowski.
Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – who saved a first-half penalty in the win over Saudi Arabia – is set to be protected by a back four of Matty Cash, Kamil Glik, Jakub Kiwior and Bartosz Bereszynski, who all started Poland’s first two Group C fixtures.
Grzegorz Krychowiak, who is just four appearances away from receiving his 100th international cap, could be joined in centre-midfield by seven-cap Birmingham City man Krystian Bielik, while Zielinski and Przemyslaw Frankowski are set to operate on the flanks.
As for Argentina, Scaloni could tinker with his starting lineup once again, with alterations expected in defence and midfield in particular.
Lisandro Martinez could retain his place at centre-back alongside Nicolas Otamendi, but the full-back spots are up for grabs, with Gonzalo Montiel, Nahuel Molina and Juan Foyth all battling for a place at right-back, while one of Nicolas Tagliafico or Marcos Acuna is set to get the nod at left-back.
Fernandez has made an impression as a second-half substitute in both of Argentina’s first two group games and the 21-year-old could be handed his first start of the tournament in centre-midfield, while Leandro Paredes will also be pushing to start after being dropped to the bench against Mexico.
Lautaro Martinez and Angel Di Maria are the two most likely candidates to continue in attack with Messi, but Julian Alvarez and Paulo Dybala will both be hoping to force their way into the first XI.
Poland possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; Cash, Glik, Kiwior, Bereszynski; Zielinski, Bielik, Krychowiak, Frankowski; Milik, Lewandowski
Argentina possible starting lineup:
E. Martinez; Molina, Otamendi, Li. Martinez, Tagliafico; Fernandez, Paredes, De Paul; Messi, La. Martinez, Di Maria