Lionel Messi said Argentina had lifted “a weight off our shoulders” with the 2-0 win against Mexico on Saturday night that breathed life back into their Fifa World Cup campaign.
Argentina, two-time champions, went into the Group C encounter knowing defeat at Lusail Stadium would eliminate the current Copa America holders.
Argentina began their bid for a third global title in hugely disappointing fashion on Tuesday, losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history. Riding a 36-match unbeaten streak, Argentina were considered one of the favourites in Qatar.
On Saturday, Messi struck a 64th-minute opener to break the deadlock against Mexico, before Enzo Fernandez made safe the result three minutes from time.
“Today, Argentina's World Cup begins,” Messi said. “We lived with discomfort given the defeat in the opening match was something we didn’t expect.
“The days felt very long and we were eager to have the chance to turn it around. We knew it was a critical game. Luckily, we had the option to win and it was a weight off our shoulders, a reason for joy and peace of mind because it is all down to us again.”
Argentina will be guaranteed progression to the knockout stages if they defeat Poland on Wednesday. Earlier on Saturday, the Europeans registered a 2-0 win against Saudi Arabia.
Against Mexico, Messi tied Argentine World Cup winner Diego Maradona on both 21 matches and eight goals at a global finals. Friday marked two years since Maradona’s death, aged 60.
"I tell people the same thing, that they continue to believe.” Messi said. “Today we did what we had to do. We had no other choice. We had to win so that we depended only on ourselves.
Argentina v Mexico player ratings
"The first half we didn't play as we should and in the second, when we calmed down, we started to play the ball better and until the goal we went back to being what we are.”
Meanwhile, Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni urged his compatriots not to get carried away with the victory. Emotions were high at a packed Lusail Stadium – the official attendance was just shy of 89,000 – with assistant manager Pablo Aimar seen in tears when Messi broke the deadlock.
"You have to have some common sense, it's just a football match," Scaloni said. "I received a message from my brother saying he was crying and it can't be like that. It's as if it were more than a football match.
"I don't share that. The players must understand it's a football match. If not, it will be like this in every match.
"It's hard to make people understand that the sun will rise tomorrow, win or lose. What matters is how you do things."
On celebrating the triumph, Scaloni said: "People will think I'm crazy but fine, we won, we're celebrating, it happens. Tomorrow we have to prepare the game.
“It's like when we won the Copa [America] final and we had to think about what came next. The joy doesn't last long; you have to maintain balance.
“Poland are very difficult, everyone plays differently [against Argentina]. And they don't just change for Leo, but for all the other players and for the respect for Argentina."