Argentina beat Australia 2-1 in the round of 16 of the football World Cup in Qatar on Saturday, setting up another quarter-final showdown against the Netherlands.
Lionel Messi, playing in his 1000th game, opened the scoring in the 35th minute, one of few highlights of a lethargic first half at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, to reach nine World Cup career goals and best Argentina legend Diego Maradona’s World Cup tally.
A second followed just before the hour mark, courtesy of Julian Alvarez, following a major lapse by Australia’s defence.
The Socceroos played a compact game, and some periods of possession worked well for them in the second half. Goodwin tried to find a receiver inside of the box from distance in the 77th minute, but the ball ricocheted off Federico Fernandez and into the Argentina goal.
Futher efforts in both goal-mouths ramped up the tension in the dying minutes, and amid late pressure from the Australians, there was a chance in the final seconds for Garang Kuol to send the game to extra time – but his shot was smothered by Argentina goalkeeper Emi Martinez.
For Australia’s squad of unheralded players, it proved to be a match too far at a World Cup in which the team has exceeded expectations by reaching the knock-out stage for only the second time. Australia also lost in the last 16 in 2006, to eventual champions Italy.
As for Messi, he now has 789 goals in a career that might yet reach its peak on December 18 by winning football’s biggest trophy in his fifth and likely last World Cup.
The dream is still alive for the seven-time world player of the year and the tens of thousands of Argentina fans who dominated the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, massively outnumbering the small pockets of green-and-gold Australia supporters, and making it feel like a match in Buenos Aires or Rosario.
After Messi’s goal, the Argentina fans bounced, swayed and twirled their scarves in joyous celebration of their favourite player’s latest ingenuity. He had sent a pass inside to the edge of the area and kept running, eventually receiving a lay-off from Nicolas Otamendi to take one touch and stroke his finish through the long legs of Australia defender Harry Souttar – the tallest outfield player at the World Cup.
And when Alvarez added the second, it looked like Argentina was going to cruise to victory. Messi started putting on a show and one 40-metre dribble wowed the crowd as he slalomed past three defenders and was tackled just as he was about to shoot.
This was no walkover, though, with Australia mounting a stirring fightback in the final 20 minutes, even putting Souttar up front in stoppage time for his aerial threat.
The widely predicted result sets up a salivating quarter-final match between Argentina and the Netherlands on Friday. They are teams with history.
The pair last met in the semi-final of the 2014 World Cup – a 0-0 draw won on penalties 4-2 by Argentina. They drew when playing in the group stage of the 2006 World Cup, while the Netherlands knocked out Argentina in the quarter-finals of the 1998 World Cup.
Argentina beat the Netherlands 3-1 in the final of the 1978 World Cup; revenge for the Netherlands’ 4-0 demolition of Argentina in the 1974 World Cup.