Lionel Messi made his 1000th career appearance for country and club a memorable one yesterday when he produced a sublime goal in the first half as two-time champions Argentina outplayed Australia 2-1 to reach the quarter-finals at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
Messi found the net in the 35th minute with a classic left-footed drive as Argentina set up a quarter-final date with Netherlands who beat USA 3-1 earlier in the day at the Khalifa International Stadium.
Julian Alvarez added Argentina’s second goal in the second half (57) after a defensive gaffe from the Australian ’keeper and defenders in their own box at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.
Argentina conceded an own goal through Enzo Fernandez on a shot by Australia’s Craig Goodwin in the 77th minute.
It was Messi’s first ever World Cup goal in a knockout match and his third in the tournament after strikes against Saudi Arabia and Mexico.
Overall it was Messi’s ninth World Cup goal, just one shy of Gabriel Batistuta’s record tally of 10. Messi yesterday went passed Diego Maradona’s tally of eight World Cup goals.
The goal against Australia yesterday was Messi’s 789th in his career.
“We controlled this match. Apart from the last save that Dibu (Martínez) made, we didn’t suffer too much,” Messi said yesterday. “We wanted to be here because of how it feels like and what people transmit. We must remain united,” he added. “It was a difficult day. We had very little rest time,” he said.
It was Argentina’s third successive win in Qatar after losing to Saudi Arabia in the opening clash of the World Cup.
The match got off to a fast start with short passes from both sides dictating the early part of the clash. In the 3th minute, Argentina’s Alejandro Gomez clipped a ball towards the Australian goal but Jackson Irvine got away with a clear handball infringement as the referee and linesman failed to take notice.
Irvine, seemingly with a pledge to stop Messi, brought down the Argentine star with an elbow to his chest in the 7th minute. After being floored, Messi got up with apparent discomfort in his chest.
Defender Nicolas Otamendi, in the 10th minute, found Alvarez in the Australian box with a long-range lob but the Manchester City forward could not lap the ball which slipped away from him.
Despite the miss, Argentines enjoyed most of the ball possession. In the 15th minute, Irvine was penalised with a yellow card for deliberately stomping on Marcus Acuna.
Gomez tried to break the deadlock with a long-range shot from the edge of the Australian box but his right-footed drive sailed away seconds later. Shortly afterwards Irvine found Aziz Behich with a neat flick back from close to the flag post.
Behich – under pressure from Rodrigo de Paul – showed good anticipation and charged into the Argentine box with the ball. But De Paul threw his body weight to keep Behich from taking a shot at the goal as the ball went away for a goal kick.
After the first 30 minutes, Messi had barely broken a sweat or made a move as the ball continued to remain on the flanks. Australia managed two corner kicks in the first half hour but Argentina’s backline remained firm to kill the two moves.
Australians were ultra defensive in the first 30 minutes whereas Argentina failed to construct a threatening move of note. Shortly after the half-hour mark, De Paul found his captain but the game’s superstar was quickly dispossessed by Keanu Baccus and Aaron Mooy on the edge of the Australian box.
Just when the spectators thought they might doze off, Messi found the back of the Australian net. Messi – from the flank – slipped a ball towards Alexis Mac Allister who was close to the Australian box. Mac Allister tapped the ball to Otamendi positioned inside the Australian box while Messi moved closer to the action himself.
Otamendi, the Benfica defender, tapped a short cross back to Messi and backed off. Messi positioned himself and then drilled a low shot between the legs of a defender to the right of keeper Mathew Ryan in the 35th minute.
Trailing by a goal, Australia’s tall defender Harry Souttar harshly stomped on Messi’s left foot but the referee once again ignored calls for a free kick near the Australian box.
Early in the second half, Gomez was benched with Lisandro Martinez, the Manchester United defender, stepping in. Seconds later, Messi found very little wriggle room for a left-footed drive from the edge of the Australian box but his feeble shot was easily pouched by ’keeper Ryan after the Argentine great slipped while taking the shot.
Alvarez doubled the lead in the 57th minute when a schoolboy error from Ryan allowed Argentina to jump to a 2-0 cushion. Kye Rowles flicked the ball to his ’keeper Ryan who was challenged by De Paul inside the box. The Socceroos ’keeper tried to push the ball away as Alvarez charged in. Alvarez managed to send the ball into the net with a feeble shot that Ryan could not stop as thousands of Argentine fans jumped with joy in the stands at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.
Messi could have added one more but he was brilliantly blocked by Australia’s Milos Degenek when the Argentine skipper was set to take a shot from the six-yard box in the 66th minute. In the 75th minute, Irvine upended Lautaro Martinez with a rough tackle but the referee surprisingly signalled play on.
Seconds later, Australia reduced the deficit when Goodwin unleashed a powerful drive from the edge of the Argentine box. The ball hit the head of Fernandez and went into the Argentine net with ’keeper Emiliano Martinez in no position to make a save.
In the 81st minute, Australia’s Behich charged into the Argentina box, hoodwinked four blockers but his shot from close range was tapped away by Lisandro Martinez with a lunge in what could have been the most spectacular goal of the tournament.