Lionel Messi made the difference for Argentina as they laboured to a 2-1 win over Australia to reach the quarterfinals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The Argentina captain provided the spark for La Albiceleste in their win over the Socceroos.
After leading Argentina out of the group stage, Messi and his teammates were faced by a resilient Australian side that had emerged from a tough group on the same number of points as they did.
Australia were ready to sit back and allow the Argentines control possession while they looked to hit them on the counter. The Socceroos held on to the ball, preventing their illustrious opponents from building any reasonable attacks. They also limited Messi’s involvement in the game to a few touches in harmless positions.
The game sprang into life in the 35th minute as Messi worked his magic. The mercurial forward played a pass into the feet of Alexis Mac Allister, who directed a pass to Nicolas Otamendi. A loose touch from Otamendi saw Messi take the ball off his toes before curling an effort past the goalkeeper from just inside the box. It was his first World Cup knockout goal and the ninth of his World Cup career. It was also his 789th goal in his 1000th career appearance.
Argentina continued to dictate the match and showed great hunger to win the game. Their second goal came in the second half as a result of the hard work of their attackers. Upon noticing a loose touch from Australian keeper Matt Ryan, Rodrigo De Paul and Julian Alvarez closed him down, forcing him to lose the ball to the latter, who fired home from an awkward angle in the 57th minute.
The Copa America champions were cruising until 20 minutes later when the Australians pulled one back. A wild shot from Craig Goodwin took a wicked deflection off the impressive Enzo Fernandez, wrong-footing Emiliano Martinez. The goal was awarded as an own goal as the original effort was going wide.
Australia began to pile up the pressure after their goal and only a last-ditch tackle from Lisandro Martinez denied Aziz Behich a certain goal after a marauding run from the left-back.
Argentina could have extended their advantage, but Lautaro Martinez and Nicolas Tagliafico were guilty of missing good chances. They needed goalkeeper Martinez to bail them out as he saved brilliantly from 18-year-old Garang Kuol in the dying embers of the game.
Argentina held on for the win that takes them into the last eight of the competition in Qatar. They will take on Netherlands in their quarterfinal clash on Friday after the Dutch defeated USA 3-1 in the day’s earlier match.