Lionel Messi ended his wait for a goal in a World Cup knockout tie as Argentina set up a quarter-final meeting with the Netherlands.
Lionel Messi marked his 1,000th career appearance with his first ever goal in the World Cup knockout stage as Argentina reached the quarter-finals with a 2-1 win over Australia on Saturday.
Australia were content to frustrate their opponents at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, but Messi opened the Socceroos up in trademark fashion as half-time approached – picking the bottom left corner into the net.
If Argentina’s first goal was sublime, their second bordered on the ridiculous as Australia goalkeeper Mathew Ryan fed the ball to Julian Alvarez, who made no mistake to seal victory.
Australia halved the arrears when Craig Goodwin’s effort deflected off Enzo Fernandez and Emiliano Martinez, but it didn’t look like Argentina could be pegged back in their quarter-final clash with the Netherlands.
Argentina looked to advance as soon as possible as Graham Arnold’s men defended resolutely, but La Albiceleste had their seven-time Ballon d’Or winner to thank as they took the lead with their first real attack.
After 35 minutes, Messi swooped in from the right wing to latch on to Nicolas Otamendi in the box before planting a neat finish on the sideline behind Ryan’s desperate dive.
Messi saw an effort deflected into the arms of Ryan as Argentina chased a second after the restart, but the keeper was at fault as Argentina doubled their lead in the 57th minute.
Ryan inexplicably struggled to get out of trouble as Rodrigo De Paul and Alvarez pressured him, and the Manchester City striker produced the simplest of finishes after stealing the ball.
Australia reduced the deficit from nothing when Goodwin’s long-range strike found the bottom-right corner past Fernandez, before Lisandro Martinez denied Aziz Behich a remarkable equalizer with a superb last-ditch tackle.
Substitute Lautaro Martinez went close three times before Emiliano Martinez denied Garang Kuolo from point-blank range for the last time, but Argentina held on to seal their progress.
Argentina player ratings (4-3-3)
GK: Emi Martinez – 4/10 – Skittish when put under pressure with the ball at his feet.
RB: Nahuel Molina – 5/10 – Had plenty of room on the outside of Australia’s narrow shape but didn’t exploit it enough.
CB: Cristian Romero – 7/10 – A little over-enthusiastic with some of the tackles which he launched into but walked the tightrope steadily enough.
CB: Nicolas Otamendi – 6/10 – No nonsense on the ball and off it, leaving the attempts at penetration to his compatriots.
LB: Marcos Acuna – 5/10 – Given more freedom to canter forward following the substitution of Alejandro Gomez.
CM: Rodrigo De Paul – 8/10 – Stormed around with an undiluted fury – effervescent energy which underpins his status as a fan favourite.
CM: Enzo Fernandez – 7/10 – Dropping right between his centre-backs to try and lubricate Argentina’s buildup play. Fernandez was more comfortable – and effective – with the ball further up the pitch.
CM: Alexis Mac Allister – 6/10 – A willing recipient of the ball in tight spaces but often crowded out in a sea of Socceroos.
RW: Julian Alvarez – 7/10 – Buzzed around the final third, the Spider’s energy was rewarded with an open goal he earned.
ST: Lionel Messi – 8/10 – Give it to him and pray. Sometimes the simplest approach can be the best.
LW: Alejandro Gomez – 4/10 – Struggled to exert a significant influence on proceedings before he was taken off within five minutes of the second half.
SUB: Lisandro Martinez (50′ for Gomez) – 7/10 – Backing up Otamendi after a limp attempt at a tackle with a goal-saving intervention.
SUB: Lautaro Martinez (72′ for Alvarez) – 5/10
SUB: Nicolas Tagliafico (72′ for Acuna) – 6/10 – Provided much more forward thrust down the left compared to Acuna.
SUB: Exequiel Palacios (80′ for Mac Allister) – N/A
SUB: Gonzalo Montiel (80′ for Molina) – N/A
Lionel Scaloni – 5/10 – Not for the first time this tournament, Messi kicked Argentina into gear. Only once they were ahead did La Scaloneta play with freedom.
Australia player ratings (4-2-3-1)
GK: Mat Ryan – 4/10 – May have been blindsided by Harry Souttar’s huge frame for Messi’s opener but couldn’t blame anyone for dallying on the ball for Argentina’s second.
RB: Milos Degenek – 3/10 – On the rare occasion Degenek aimed the ball forward, it was invariably an aimlessly clearance.
CB: Harry Souttar – 7/10 – Capable of spraying a raking diagonal across the pitch as well as snuffing out any aerial assault in his vague vicinity.
CB: Kye Rowles – 5/10 – Unlike his partner in defence, Rowles took a safety-first approach to his role on the ball.
LB: Aziz Behich – 6/10 – Keen to get forward throughout the contest, he just lacked that last bit of composure at the death.
CM: Aaron Mooy – 6/10 – Shuttled around in midfield diligently, desperately trying to plug any gap in Australia’s rearguard.
CM: Keanu Baccus – 7/10 – Quick to appear on Mooy’s shoulder whenever Messi picked up the ball in midfield, doubling up on the legendary number ten.
AM: Jackson Irvine – 6/10 – Picked up a suspension-inducing yellow card inside the opening 15 minutes which didn’t hamper his urgency off the ball.
RW: Mathew Leckie – 4/10 – One banner in the Australian end read: “Some say Messi. We say Leckie.” It’s safe to say more people were saying the former on Saturday night.
ST: Mitchell Duke – 6/10 – Tirelessly tossed his frame around the top end of the pitch.
LW: Riley McGree – 5/10 – Flitted around the fringes of the contest.
SUB: Ajdin Hrustic (58′ for Baccus) – 5/10
SUB: Craig Goodwin (58′ for McGree) – 5/10 – Got hugely fortunate with his wayward swing towards goal.
SUB: Fran Karacic (72′ for Degenerk) – N/A
SUB: Garang Kuol (72′ for Leckie) – N/A
SUB: Jamie Maclaren (72′ for Duke) – N/A
Graham Arnold – 5/10 – Set his side up in a very good shape but once their resolve was broke, Australia offered little going forward.