Argentina was warned. The Australians prevailed in the death group. While the experts had discussed in the run-up to this World Cup whether France, Denmark or Tunisia would go home next to the outsiders after the preliminary round in Group D, the “Socceroos” advanced to the round of 16, unimpressed by their strong opponents. The outsider initially held up well against the almost overwhelming Argentinians around Lionel Messi. In the end, however, there was the expected defeat, introduced by the superstar, who once again outshined everything.
In his 1000th game as a professional footballer, Lionel Messi led the Argentine national team to the quarter-finals of the World Cup. The 35-year-old broke the ban with a well-considered shot to make it 1-0 (35′). It was his first goal in the knockout rounds of a World Cup, but his ninth World Cup goal overall. He is now the sole record holder. Diego Maradona had eight in his career. In front of 45,032 spectators, Julián Álvarez (57) from Manchester City scored the second goal after a serious goalkeeping error. Australia came close again with an untenable deflected hit from a shot by Craig Goodwin (67′), which was ruled an Enzo Fernández own goal.
This was what Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni had warned about before the game. And then he also had to change his “winning team”. Ángel di María, Messi’s long-time strike partner, still pinched his thigh. Using it from the start was too risky. After five and four changes in the starting line-up, only Alejandro Gómez made a new appearance this time. The 34-year-old from FC Sevilla initially fell back slightly on the left flank to strengthen the wing on which the former 1860 Munich professional Milos Degenek also plays for the Australians.
Messi initially acted in the center of attack at his next World Cup show, but quickly fell behind against the deeply defending Australians, where St. Pauli’s second division professional Jackson Irvine saw a yellow card after fifteen minutes. Patience was required.
Behind the Australians’ goal, there wasn’t much to celebrate for a few hundred fans in yellow – except that coach Graham Arnold’s side made it difficult for Argentina to play in the early stages. Even after 30 minutes, the South Americans didn’t get a shot at the goal of captain Mathew Ryan, who, like Leckie, played his tenth World Cup game – more than any other Australian before.
Already in the 2-0 win against Poland, the Argentines had to make the game, the opponent remembered to defend. Australia acted similarly, but better than the team around star striker Robert Lewandowski, who have to play against world champions France on Sunday. Australia made it smarter. And the furious Messi, who delivered a jersey plucking on the outside line with Australia’s Aziz Behich. This same Behich immediately fouled Gmez – there was a free kick, executed by Messi, as in previous games clearly the best man in his team.
The Australians, who had been flawless defensively up to that point, couldn’t get the ball out of the danger zone and Alexis Mac Allister found the ball at the moved-up central defender Nicolás Otamendi. He applauded and then Messi came. A flat flick with the left, like out of the Messi textbook, into the far corner. He stretched his hands up, the stadium became a sky blue and white bouncy castle.
The Argentinians didn’t have much of the force of the game against Poland this time. It was more the motto: Don’t catch anyone in the back and the captain will do it in front, who is appearing very differently in Qatar these days than in his sometimes listless performances at the World Cup embarrassment of Russia. For the second goal, however, Messi was just a spectator when Australia keeper Ryan made a capital error and lost the ball to Álvarez six meters from goal. The decision.
With the constant singing of tens of thousands of fans in Argentinian jerseys, it was now possible to play more freely. The fact that Scaloni took out the weak offensive man Gómez and brought in another defender in Lisandro Martínez only paid off to a limited extent. After Goodwin’s shot, which Fernández unluckily deflected into his own goal, Argentina wobbled. Aziz Behich was blocked at the last second during his superb solo run (81′) and substitute Garang Kuol was denied by Emiliano Martinez (90′, 7) who made a brilliant save in added time.
On the other side, it was always Messi, who shone with his skills and put his team-mates in the limelight. The ball just didn’t want to go into the goal again. Another record is now possible for him. World Cup record player is Lothar Matthäus with 25 appearances, followed by Miroslav Klose (24). Messi is now in 23 games and meets the Netherlands in the quarter-finals on Friday, who beat the USA 3-1 (2-0) in the afternoon.
More to come.