Messi stars as Argentina reach quarter-finals

Lionel Messi starred as Argentina progressed to the quarter-finals of the World Cup with a 2-1 win over Australia.

Messi marked the 1,000th senior game of his career with a measured finish for the breakthrough goal late in the first half, and Mat Ryan’s error allowed Julian Alvarez to double the advantage early in the second.

There were late scares for Argentina after Craig Goodwin’s shot deflected in off Enzo Fernandez, and it needed a dramatic tackle from Lisandro Martinez and a fine save from Emiliano Martinez for them to hold on.

It was a spirited effort from Graham Arnold’s side, who can be proud of their tournament, but it is Messi and Argentina who will face the Netherlands in the last eight. This is not always a fluent Argentina side but with the little genius in the team they can dream.

Big moments in the game…

  • 35 min: Messi measures a shot past the goalkeeper for the breakthrough goal
  • 57 min: Ryan is dispossessed by Alvarez who finishes to double Argentina’s lead
  • 77 min: Fernandez deflects Goodwin’s shot into his own net as Australia pull one back
  • 82 min: Behich goes on a mazy run that almost brings a dramatic equaliser
  • 89 min: Lautaro Martinez wastes a golden chance to kill the game as he fires over
  • 90+7 min: Kuol has his shot saved by the goalkeeper and Australia’s dream is over

How Argentina won the game

Aziz Behich may regret his decision to confront Messi. With the game surprisingly sterile, a rare bit of pressing from the Argentina captain prompted the left-back to square up to him and then give away a foolish free-kick soon after. The game changed. The goal followed.

Once ahead, Argentina introduced Lisandro Martinez and reverted to three at the back just as they had when leading Mexico. It was a cautious move but Lionel Scaloni appears determined to learn the lesson of that defeat to Saudi Arabia in the opening game.

There seemed little threat of a repeat once Ryan had erred. Closed down by Alvarez and Rodrigo de Paul, his misguided attempt to dribble between them proved costly. Alvarez dispossessed him and the Manchester City striker then finished neatly.

But when Goodwin’s wild effort deflected in off Fernandez there was a twist. The game opened up and Messi took it up a level, twice setting up Lautaro Martinez only for the striker to waste the opportunities. Incredibly, that almost proved costly because Australia had chances, too.

Behich went on a mazy run that almost brought the equaliser only for Lisandro Martinez to block his shot at the last. And with the final kick of the game Newcastle United teenager Garang Kuol had a shot well saved by the Argentina goalkeeper.

What drama. But it was Messi smiling at the end.

Lionel Messi has more dribbles at the World Cup than any other player
World Cup chances created by Lionel Messi

Analysis: Messi magic lights up this team

This was Messi’s best game of the tournament. He had the most shots and created the most chances. It needed his magic to unlock Australia and once the game opened up he was really able to enjoy himself. The hope for Argentina is that it is a sign of what is to come.

Argentina have been strong favourites in every game so far and a feature of these matches has been Messi’s attempts to find space when the opposition is set on stifling him. But if Argentina go all the way in Qatar there will be different types of tests ahead.

His performance once his team were ahead might be a hint of how dangerous he could become in the latter stages of this World Cup. If opponents pursue a more open game against Argentina then that could be a big mistake because Messi is still on it.

Scaloni satisfied | Di Maria back soon

“We are very satisfied,” said Scaloni afterwards. “It was a very challenging game and very useful to understand how difficult this competition is. They pressed us. They were fresher than us. The first half was tough but Messi scored the opening goal and we improved.

“We adapted a few things, bringing on Lisandro Martinez. I thought we needed to look for something different and I think that we improved with this substitution. I don’t think we deserved to suffer as we did in the last minutes because we had chances before that.

“Angel Di Maria was unfit today. Hopefully he will be able to play in the next game. It is always tempting to bring him on when he is on the bench but I don’t think we would have been helping anyone to bring him. We hope that he keeps evolving and will be ready soon.”

Opta stats – Messi’s numbers and more

  • Argentina have progressed from five of their last six round of 16 matches at the World Cup, the only exception during this run coming in 2018 against eventual champions France.
  • The round of 16 remains the furthest stage that Australia have ever reached at the World Cup, also eliminated at this point of the competition in 2006 against Italy, who went on to lift the trophy.
  • Julian Alvarez became the sixth player to score in each of their first two World Cup starts for Argentina, and the first to do so since Hernan Crespo in 2006.
  • Lionel Messi scored in the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time for Argentina, with his previous eight goals in the competition all coming during the group stage. Only Gabriel Batistuta (10) has scored more World Cup goals for Argentina than Messi (9).
  • Messi made his 1000th career appearance in this match for Argentina (169), Barcelona (778) and Paris Saint-Germain (53). He has 789 goals and 338 assists. Australia were the 129th team he has scored against in his career.

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