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Messi magic helps send Argentina into World Cup last eight

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Soccer Football – FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 – Round of 16 – Argentina v Australia – Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar – December 3, 2022 Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Alejandro Gomez celebrate after the match as Argentina progress to the quarter finals REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

  • Messi’s 789th goal in his 1,000th career appearance – but first in the knockout rounds of the World Cup – helped set up a last-eight clash with the unbeaten Netherlands on Friday
  • Julian Alvarez scored the other in the 57th minute after some calamitous Australian defending, before Enzo Fernandez’s 77th-minute own goal set up an unexpectedly nervy finale

Lionel Messi
produced a moment of trademark quality to score the opener in a 2-1 win over Australia
and send Argentina into the quarter-finals of the World Cup on Saturday.

Messi’s
789th goal in his 1,000th career appearance – but first in the knockout rounds
of the World Cup – helped set up a last-eight clash with the unbeaten
Netherlands on Friday.

Julian
Alvarez scored the other in the 57th minute after some calamitous Australian
defending, before Enzo Fernandez’s 77th-minute own goal set up an unexpectedly
nervy finale.

Now 35, one
of the best players of all time is seeking to win the tournament for the first
time in what will surely be his final World Cup.

Messi’s
classy first-half goal, bending the ball into the bottom corner, broke the
resistance and ultimately the hearts of a gutsy Australian side who defied all
expectations in Qatar and went down fighting.

Australia’s
yellow-shirted fans were vastly outnumbered among the packed crowd at the
45,000-capacity Ahmad bin Ali Stadium and were drowned out by Argentina’s
boisterous, bellowing and bouncing supporters.

Back in
Australia, where fans had a sunrise start if they wanted to catch the game live
on television, the Sydney Opera House was lit up in green and gold.

Their side
were huge underdogs – few at home had expected them to get even this far at the
tournament – but this has been a World Cup of shocks.

Two-time
champions Argentina were the victim of arguably the biggest shock in Qatar when
they went down 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in their opening match.

But there
would be no repeat here.

Graham
Arnold’s Socceroos set out to unsettle their opponents. Keanu Baccus left one
on Messi and Jackson Irvine was booked for crunching into left-back Marcos
Acuna.

Argentina
had Australia pinned back but the Socceroos were resolute and growing in confidence
as an uninspiring first half wore on.

Messi was
getting frustrated, tussling with Australian defender Aziz Behich on the
sidelines.

Argentina
and their coach Lionel Scaloni badly needed something special and in Messi they
got it 10 minutes from the break.

Alexis Mac
Allister fed defender Nicolas Otamendi, who was still in the box for an
Argentina free-kick, and he miscontrolled it into the path of Messi who bent
the ball left-footed along the ground into the corner.

It was
Argentina’s first shot on target.

Australia
had only got this far once before, in 2006, and they needed to come out and
attack in the second half.

Instead,
they self-destructed. Goalkeeper and captain Mathew Ryan tried to play out
under fierce pressure in his box from hard-running Rodrigo De Paul just before
the hour and was dispossessed by Alvarez.

The
Manchester City striker, 22, nipped in, stole the ball from Ryan and swivelled
to slot into an empty net for his second goal in as many games. Arnold thumped
his dugout in frustration.

The
Socceroos looked dead and buried but substitute Goodwin latched onto a loose
clearance and his shot hit Fernandez and ricocheted in with 13 minutes left.

Behich then
went on a superb mazy run from left-back, beating three Argentina players
before Lisandro Martinez made a vital last-ditch challenge.

Teenager
Garang Kuol then forced Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez into a desperate
save deep in injury time before the massed ranks of South American fans
celebrated a big win.



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