The Socceroos are out of the World Cup after a brave late fightback fell just short against the might of Lionel Messi’s Argentina.
Messi scored a magical opening goal to lead his side to a 2-1 win, but Australia gave as good as they got in a rollercoaster second half, piling on the pressure after profiting from a huge slice of luck when Craig Goodwin’s 77th minute strike copped a wicked deflection into the goal.
That lit a fire under Craig Arnold’s side, spurring them to their best period of the contest and almost squaring it, with an Aziz Behich 80th minute shot blocked from just outside the six yard box after he had beaten two Argentina defenders in a mazy run through the heart of their defence.
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Wicked deflection gives Socceroos goal
It felt like that could be it for the Socceroos, but some tactical changes from Graham Arnold provided a grandstand finish, with the coach pushing man mountain Harry Souttar up into a makeshift striker role to add an aerial threat to Australia’s attack, while Premier League bound teenager Garang Kuol was one of several attacking players brought on as late substitutes.
And Kuol very nearly got his fairytale, with the ball falling for him in excellent shooting position deep into injury time. The 18-year-old fired, but Argentina’s goalkeeper Damian Emiliano Martinez Romero was equal to it, making the save as the ball threatened to squeeze through underneath him.
Kuol’s moment was as good as it got after Behich’s huge chance was blocked by desperate cover defence, with relieved Argentina players raising arms aloft as the full-time whistle was blown.
After the game Socceroos midfielder Jackson Irvine was emotional as he gave an interview to SBS.
“I think we did everything we could. We stood up to be compact and disciplined in our shape. We were excellent defensively we gave up very little until obviously the end,” Irvine said.
“You have to have a go with the last 15 minutes. I think we did everything we could to give ourselves a chance in the game. When Argentina are celebrating like this, victory against Australia, I think it shows what kind of opposition we gave them today.”
“It’s difficult to comprehend everything at the moment,” he added. “It’s all quite raw… But yeah, I hope we made everyone proud.”
No doubt Argentina were the better team and deserving of their place in the quarter finals, yet the result could have been different if not for a moment of madness from Socceroos goalkeeper Mat Ryan gave Argentina a 2-0 buffer after 57 minutes.
Having received a pass near his goalline, Ryan attempted to dribble the ball out rather than smashing it clear and he had his pocket picked, providing Julián Álvarez with the most simple of finishes to give the South American heavyweights a buffer.
Horror moment for Australia’s goalkeeper
“Utter despair for the Socceroos. Argentina have had little opportunities and we gifted them a goal,” Luke Wilkshire said in commentary for SBS.
“Decision making there for Maty Ryan, should have let the ball go. Tries to dribble out with it. Been pickpocketed and punished yet again.”
In the end it was a buffer Argentina needed, with former Socceroos captain Craig Foster lauding Australia’s courage to throw men forward in search of an equaliser, while conceding that the class of Messi was the difference between the two sides.
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“He was the difference. One of the greatest players in the history of the game,” Foster said on SBS’ coverage after the game.
“There’s so much for us to learn from this. And so we’ll reflect after the tournament — reflect on the tournament after everything that has occurred here and how we build an going forward.
“For the moment, the greatest compliments possible to everyone on that bench, everyone on the field, this entire group, what you have done, you have pushed the potential world champions here and twice former champions, in one of the greatest players in the world, you have pushed them to the limit.
“And that’s what we expect from you.”
Argentina will meet Netherlands at the quarter-final stage of the World Cup after they beat the USA 3-1 in the tournament’s first round of 16 clash earlier on Sunday morning.
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