Messi scores and Argentina advances to the World Cup quarterfinals

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Lionel Messi was thrust into the middle of a joyous post-game gathering as Argentina’s players jumped up and down in celebration of reaching the World Cup quarterfinals.

Messi delivered again for his country, marking the 1,000th game of his era-defining career with his first goal in the knockout stage of a World Cup to lead Argentina to a 2-1 victory over Australia on Saturday.

However, this was not the step-up most expected against the unheralded Aussies.

At the final whistle, Argentina was as grateful for their goalkeeper as the number 10 with magic in his boots.

Emi Martinez came up with a great save in the dying seconds of an increasingly eager match to avoid the need for extra time and the potential for another scare in a World Cup full of them.

“That’s the World Cup for you,” Messi said. “All matches are difficult and the important thing is that you win.”

With a touch of his famous left foot in the 35th minute, Messi put Argentina ahead with his third goal of this year’s tournament and ninth overall in the World Cup, one more than Diego Maradona.

“Wow, it’s just remarkable,” Australia coach Graham Arnold said.

Julián Álvarez pounced on a hard touch from Australian goalkeeper Mathew Ryan to tap into an empty net for the second goal, but this was no cruise to a quarter-final encounter with the Netherlands.

Australia’s comeback in the last 20 minutes was as moving as it was unexpected. Craig Goodwin’s shot deflected into the net of Argentinian midfielder Enzo Fernandez in the 77th. Then, amid a late air blitz from the Australians, Garang Kuol had a great chance when he went free at the far post. Shot on the turn, his shot was stifled by Martinez and two Argentina players fell on top of their keeper from both relief and happiness.

“Before we came here, people were saying we were the worst World Cup team and the worst Socceroos team of all time,” Arnold said. “That’s gone now.”

On the only other occasion Australia reached the round of 16, in 2006, the team lost to eventual champions Italy.

Perhaps it bodes well for Argentina, which has fully recovered from its shock loss to Saudi Arabia in its opening group match and has won three straight games.

As for Messi, he now has 789 goals in a career that could yet reach a climax on December 18 by winning soccer’s biggest trophy in his fifth and likely final World Cup.

The dream lives on for the seven-time World Player of the Year and the tens of thousands of Argentine fans who dominated the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, massively outnumbering the small groups of Australian fans clad in green and gold to make it felt. like a match in Buenos Aires or Rosario.

Argentina’s players linked arms and formed a long line to celebrate in front of their scarf-waving fans at one end of the stadium after the game.

“All of Argentina would like to be here, but it’s not possible,” Messi said. “This bond, this union that we have, is beautiful.”

Messi had been calm before his goal, displaced by a compact and defensively solid Australia team. However, he is never quiet for long.

He sent a pass inside the edge of the box and ran on, eventually receiving a dismissal from Nicolás Otamendi to take a touch and hit his shot through the long legs of Australian defender Harry Souttar, the tallest outfield player in the World Cup. . .

When Álvarez added the second goal in consecutive games, Australia was left out and Messi began to put on a show.

A 40-meter (yard) dribble wowed the crowd as he blasted past three defenders and was brought down just as he was about to shoot.

“MESSI! MESSI!” the singing came

Messi used his control and vision to set up two chances in the frantic finale, one of which was lobbed over the bar by Martinez, before Australia came in force after putting Souttar in front in stoppage time for his aerial threat. .

“We gave it our all,” Australian striker Jackson Irvine said through tears, “but it wasn’t enough.”

QUARTER FINALS: Argentina and the Netherlands will play their quarterfinal match at the Lusail Stadium, the venue with capacity for 89,000 spectators where the final will be played.

The teams last met at the World Cup in 2014, when Argentina won a penalty shootout in the semifinals.



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