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Lionel Messi said Argentina had lifted “a weight off our shoulders” after the 2-0 win over Mexico, sparked by his brilliant second-half goal, that breathed life into their teetering World Cup campaign.

It was, as Messi pointed out, a moment of arrival for one of the tournament favourites. Argentina would have been eliminated from the competition had they lost but improved significantly after a tentative first half and Messi, who retains hope of winning the prize that has eluded him during an unparalleled career, articulated the sense of profound relief.

“We lived with discomfort given the defeat in the opening match [against Saudi Arabia] was something we didn’t expect,” he said. “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 a last 16 place if they defeat Poland on Wednesday. Messi said the victory over an unambitious Mexico was a chance to “bring peace of mind and start again”. He added: “We needed this result, it seems like in the second half we made our true debut.”

The Argentina manager, Lionel Scaloni, pleaded for a composed response to setbacks and triumphs alike, stressing the need for an “emotional balance” in assessment of his side. “It’s thrilling to see them all playing,” he continued. “If you don’t feel identified with this squad it’s because you don’t want to. I’m very proud of all my players and excited about what they did.”

Scaloni believes Messi’s presence on this stage should be savoured. “Messi should enjoy this World Cup and Argentina fans should enjoy seeing him playing,” he said. “We need to keep our feet on the ground.”