Lionel Messi delivered a masterclass in the
round of 16 against Australia to lead Argentina into the quarter-finals of the
2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The 35-year-old scored the opening goal on his
1000th career appearance and provided more magical moments throughout the 90
minutes as Argentina edged out the Socceroos 2-1 at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium
in Qatar on Saturday night.
Julian Alvarez pounced on Mat Ryan’s error
in the second half to make it 2-0, but Australia rallied in the closing stages
after an Enzo Fernandez own goal. However, the two-time world champions held on
thanks to an important save from Emiliano Martinez at the death to set up a
date with the Netherlands in the quarter-finals.
Lionel Scaloni restored Papu Gomez and
Cristian Romero to his side for this knockout clash, with Angel di Maria
unavailable due to injury. Although Argentina enjoyed the majority of
possession in the early periods, neither side could manage any significant
chances in a listless first half-hour.
However, just as he did against Mexico,
Messi arrived to Argentina’s rescue once more to open the scoring with a piece
of brilliance. The PSG forward was involved in some quick interplay with
Nicholas Otamendi in the box before placing his shot into the bottom corner
past Mat Ryan.
Argentina stepped up their tempo in the
second period and doubled their lead 12 minutes after half-time. Rodrigo de
Paul’s intense pressure forced the Australian goalkeeper into an error in
possession, and Manchester City striker Julian Alvarez made no mistake with his
finish to make it two goals in two games.
Australian manager Graham Arnold made an
attacking triple change in the 72nd minute in the hope of salvaging something
at the death, and against the run of play, the Socceroos pulled one goal back
through a huge slice of luck. Craig Goodwin’s shot from the edge of the area
took a wicked deflection off Enzo Fernandez, leaving goalkeeper Emiliano
Martinez helpless as the ball rippled the back of the net.
Australia even threatened to level the scores
when Aziz Behich cut through the defence with a mazy dribble but Lisandro
Martinez produced an important last-ditch tackle to spare Argentina’s blushes.
La Albicelestes had ample opportunities to put the game away in the final ten
minutes, but Lautaro Martinez failed to convert any of his opportunities to
keep Australia in the contest.
The South Americans were almost made to pay
for those missed chances in the final minute, but Emiliano Martinez made a
brilliant save to deny 18-year-old striker Garang Kuol and secure Argentina’s