Beyond our doubts: Messi leads Barcelona to history, Champions League quarters

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It’s so easy now, after witnessing what became a route in Catalonia, to wonder why we ever doubted Barcelona, but we had good reason to think Milan would hold the two-goal lead they carried into today’s Champions League eliminator. Nobody had ever squandered that kind of a league. But perhaps more importantly, recent losses to Milan and Real Madrid (twice) provided hints Barcelona’s attack had been figured out, with good teams able to sit back and absorb the Catalans’ attack rather than waste time chasing tikis and takas.

We had every reason to think Barcelona would bow out of Champions League, but their 4-0 win (4-2, aggregate) reminded us, Milan, and the European soccer world that there’s one aspect of Barcelona’s attack that defies solution. The only options you have against Lionel Messi are containment, hope, and prayer that he doesn’t decide to do something special.

Three weeks ago at the San Siro, those options worked, but it only took five minutes for Messi to make his mark on Tuesday, the first touch on a shot from 19 yards placed immaculately into Christian Abbati’s upper-right hand corner. The ball left Messi’s foot so quickly, Milan’s defense was left frozen as the ball buckled the back of the net.

(MORE: Highlights of Messi’s brilliant opener.)

Messi added his second five minutes before half, a score produced by a Barcelona defense that was much more disruptive on Tuesday than it had been three weeks ago. In the 40th minute, as Milan attempted to transition the ball out of their final third, Andrés Iniesta forced a turnover, found Messi outside the area to the right of goal, and set up the Argentine for the equalizer. Using the lunging Philippe Mexes as a screen, Messi beat Abbiati well inside the right post, sending the matchup into halftime tied at two.

Ten minutes into the second, Barcelona’s defense created the winner, with a bold read from Javier Mascherano again disrupting Milan’s transition. The Barça defender intercepted a clearance and started a short movement that ended at the feet of David Villa. Open 15 yards out to the right of goal, Villa calmly passed the ball into the left side netting, putting Barcelona in front.

Milan’s approach was never one to play from behind. Despite three subs that changed their side, the Rossoneri couldn’t gain control of the match. The closest they came to an equalizer was a late cross for Robinho, a ball that was cut out by Jordi Alba before Victor Valdes’s help was needed.

In the 93rd minute, Alba got his reward, sprinting the length of the field to complete a counter that sealed Barcelona’s place in the quarterfinals.

(MORE: Galatasaray compounds Schalke’s season of contradictions)

With the win, Barcelona became the first team to turn around a 2-0 first leg deficit and advance in the Champions League, a fact that should haunt a Milan side that couldn’t muster the resiliency they leveraged three weeks ago. The Italians never posed the same threat on the counter, and the space between their midfield three and central defense proved easier to exploit. Perhaps it was too much to ask them to maintain the same standard they performed to in Milan.

And perhaps it was too much to ask them to stop Messi twice in a row. In Italy, the Ballon d’Or winner was surprisingly ineffectual. In Spain, he defined the match in the same way we expect him to define any match he starts.

Villa may have got the winner, and Alba may have provided the insurance, but it was Messi who steered his side to history. Maybe we were wrong to doubt.

Saudi Arabia vs Mexico: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Mexico needs a win to have hope of reaching the World Cup knockout rounds, while Saudi Arabia’s hopes of the final 16 may require the same at Stadium 974 in Doha on Wednesday.

The Saudis stunned Argentina 2-1 In Lusail to open the tournament but could not repeat the feat against Poland at Education City in Al Rayyan on Saturday to leave themselves with three points through two matches.

STREAM LIVE SAUDI ARABIA vs MEXICO

Mexico remains without a win after their scoreless draw versus Poland led to a Lionel Messi-inspired loss to Argentina In Lusail.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Saudi Arabia vs Mexico.


How to watch Saudi Arabia vs Mexico live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Wednesday Nov. 30
Stadium: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

The Saudis have arguably been the most fun team at the tournament amongst non-powers, always running and getting exceptional goalkeeping. Salem Al-Dawsari was very good in both games but his missed penalty before halftime against Poland looms large of a match that could’ve been 1-1 going to the break and instead ended 2-0.

Mexico has not scored at the tournament so far, and Raul Jimenez has only been used as a super sub. Hirving Lozano and Alexis Vega combined for just three shot attempts before being subbed out of the Poland loss, while Lozano and Henry Martin combined for two versus Poland (Vega attempted five). They need better up top to keep up their streak of making Round of 16 appearances at the World Cup.


Saudi Arabia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 51
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 5
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC (Won Group B)
Coach: Herve Renard
Key players: Salem Al-Dawsari, Fahad Al-Muwallad, Mohammed Al-Owais

Mexico quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 13
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 16
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONCACAF (2nd place)
Coach: Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino
Key players: Guillermo Ochoa, Hector Herrera, Raul Jimenez

Poland vs Argentina: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Poland and Argentina surely didn’t plan to reach the marquee match of World Cup Group C with their knockout round status in doubt, but it’s been that kind of tournament in Qatar.

Poland remains unbeaten in Qatar after beating Saudi Arabia 2-0 in Al Rayyan, adding to the point it earned from a scoreless draw with Mexico In Doha to give it top billing in the group heading into Wednesday’s match.

STREAM LIVE POLAND vs ARGENTINA

Argentina, meanwhile, rebounded from a 2-1 tournament-opening loss to Saudi Arabia In Lusail to bear Mexico 2-0 behind a goal and an assist from Lionel Messi.

Saudi Arabia’s three points means it can still advance with a win over Mexico, who itself can add to its one point. So everyone’s alive in Group C.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Poland vs Argentina.


How to watch Poland vs Argentina live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Wednesday, Nov. 30
Stadium: Stadium 974, Doha – 2pm
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

The storyline for every Argentina game this tournament from this point forward — and really since the lead-up to the Mexico match — is that any loss means the end of Lionel Messi’s World Cup career (at least according to the living legend). The Albiceleste would be thrilled to get something more out of Lautaro Martinez, while Paulo Dybala’s yet to make his tournament debut.

Robert Lewandowski finally has a World Cup goal on his resume, while Piotr Zielinski has been very good for Poland. Former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was sensational in the win over Saudi Arabia.


Poland quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 26
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 8
How they qualified: Qualified from UEFA via playoffs, Path B
Coach: Czeslaw Michniewicz
Key players: Robert Lewandowski, Wojciech Szczesny, Piotr Zielinski

Argentina quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 3
World Cup titles: 2 (1978, 1986)
World Cup appearances: 17
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (2nd place)
Coach: Lionel Scaloni
Key players: Lionel Messi, Angel de Maria, Lautaro Martinez

Portugal vs Uruguay: How to watch, live stream link, team news

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Portugal looks to seal its fate in the World Cup Round of 16 by piling pressure on Uruguay when two titans of the sport meet in Lusail on Monday.

Portugal outlasted Ghana 3-2 in Doha to open its tournament with a big win that featured a controversial penalty for Cristiano Ronaldo, while Uruguay staged a scoreless draw with South Korea.

STREAM LIVE PORTUGAL vs URUGUAY

It’s a group that never looked easy and is looking more and more like a “Group of Death” as the World Cup rolls through Qatar in its typically tense fashion this month and next.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Portugal vs Uruguay.


How to watch Portugal vs Uruguay live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Monday Nov. 28
Stadium: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Everyone’s going to keep looking at Cristiano Ronaldo — it’s difficult not to turn your head with all the “Look at me” nonsense — but Bruno Fernandes is the real string-puller here. He’s playing well with Ruben Neves, while Ruben Dias and the back line will look to tighten things up after letting Ghana stay in the game.

Uruguay hero Luis Suarez has been here before, but his supporting cast is as good as ever. Rodrigo Betancur and Jose Maria Gimenez give La Celeste a chance at clean sheet every time they take the pitch.


Portugal quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 9
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 8
How they qualified: Qualified from UEFA via playoffs
Coach: Fernando Santos
Key players: Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruben Neves, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Cancelo

Uruguay quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 14
World Cup titles: 2 (1930, 1950)
World Cup appearances: 14
How they qualified: Qualified from CONMEBOL
Coach: Diego Alonso
Key players: Luis Suarez, Federico Valverde, Darwin Nunez, Rodrigo Betancur

Brazil vs Switzerland: How to watch, live stream link, team news

Brazil vs Switzerland live
Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images)
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Opening match winners Brazil and Switzerland meet Monday at Stadium 974 in Doha.

FIFA world No. 1 Brazil broke through pesky Serbia for a 2-0 win In Lusail to start the tournament as Richarlison scored two goals — one a ridiculous bit of technique — to get the Brazilians off on the right (and left) foot.

STREAM LIVE BRAZIL vs SWITZERLAND

Switzerland meanwhile used a 1-0 defeat of Cameroon to claim three points and set up Monday’s win-and-in match.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Can Neymar-less Brazil take the next step toward a sixth World Cup? Here is everything you need for Brazil vs Switzerland.


How to watch Brazil vs Switzerland live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 11am ET, Monday Nov. 28
Stadium: Stadium 974, Doha
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Brazil will not have Neymar for this one and likely the rest of the group stage as the oft-fouled magician felt the sting of Serbian tackles in the opener. The Brazilians have had to play without their captain before and have a wealth of attacking options, but who will join Richarlison in providing the goals in a Ney-less attack.

The Swiss have all the tools to hang with Brazil, but how physical will they want to make it for the favorites? Granit Xhaka will be one to watch as the underdogs try to balance a desire to get forward with the danger of doing so against a potent Brazil.


Brazil quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 1
World Cup titles: 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
World Cup appearances: 22
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (1st place)
Coach: Tite
Key players: Neymar, Thiago Silva, Casemiro, Alisson Becker

Switzerland quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 15
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 12
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Murat Yakin
Key players: Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Yann Sommer, Remo Freuler