Football News

Argentina 2-1 Australia: Lionel Messi breaks a World Cup hoodoo on historic evening

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 21:00, 3 December 2022

Argentina will renew their World Cup rivalry with the Netherlands after running out 2-1 winners over Australia this evening.

La Albiceleste, who survived a late scare, meets Louis van Gaal’s men in Lusail this upcoming Friday, the first quarter-final match set at these finals. It’s a sixth tournament showdown with previous notable meetings coming in the 1978 final and Dennis Bergkamp’s moment of brilliance two decades later. The defending South American champions were indebted to Lionel Messi, their once-in-a-generation talisman, and heir apparent Julián Álvarez.

It was an emotional and historic evening for the record six-time Ballon d’Or recipient as he took part in his 1,000 career game. He also equalled Paolo Maldini on 23 World Cup games played with only Lothar Matthaus (25) and Miroslav Klose (24) ahead of him. Messi should match the competition’s all-time scorer next time out against Oranje. Speaking of which, he’s now on nine World Cup strikes, which saw him surpass Diego Maradona and Guillermo Stabile (eight each). Only Gabriel Batistuta (10) has scored more for Argentina.

Today’s effort was remarkably Messi’s first in the knockout phase and his 789th career goal. Before facing the Aussies he produced 23 efforts without scoring. That being said Messi did previously assist in the last 16 in each of 2010, 2014 and 2018 editions. Lionel Scaloni expected a rearguard performance from Socceroos and they kept Argentina at bay until the 35th minute when ‘La Pulga‘ picked up the ball inside the box and from 15 yards slide a cool finish into the bottom corner.

“Australia made it difficult, that was the game plan to frustrate and that’s what they were,” Alan Shearer noted on BBC One. “It was always going to be a piece of brilliance and that’s exactly what it was.”

Rio Ferdinand concurred: “Australia must be really disappointed the work they put in. But when Messi is on the pitch, you can set up how you like, he’ll find a way.”

This effort subsequently made the Paris Saint-Germain forward (35) his nation’s oldest World Cup knockout phase goalscorer. The previous record was held by Roberto Ayala (33) when he netted past Germany in the 2006 quarter-finals. Up until that moment, Argentina was lethargic, but as he’s done so many times before Messi turned the game on its head.

It feels like a lifetime ago when critics used to accuse Messi of playing better for Barcelona than his country. As things currently stand, he’s scored 13 goals across his last eight international matches. This is expected to be Messi’s final World Cup, once he steps down from national team duty the likes of 22-year-old Julián Álvarez will need to step up, and the Manchester City marksman displayed relentless awareness when doubling Argentina’s lead.

However, it was a gift from Ryan, who just before the hour mark decided to dribble out of his goal from around eight yards out despite being pressed by Rodrigo De Paul. He managed to bypass the Atlético Madrid man though it sent him into Álvarez’s path and the forward had the simple task of rolling the ball into an empty net. It meant he became the sixth player to score in each of his first two World Cup starts for Argentina and the first since Hernan Crespo in 2006.

Incredibly, just when Messi and company seemed to be cruising through, Craig Goodwin — against the run of play — unexpectedly halved the deficit. His pot shot from 22 yards out, a half-volley, that was going wide of goal smacked Enzo Fernández and deflected past Emiliano Martínez who stood rooted on the spot. Goodwin would have been the first Australian to score a knockout goal at the World Cup, but understandably his effort was changed to a Fernandez own goal.

Moments later Aziz Behich, channelling his inner Messi, went on a mazy run past four Argentina defenders and cut inside Nicolas Otamendi and just as he was about to hammer in to make it 2-2, Lisandro Martinez slid in to make a sensational block. Lisandro’s namesake Lautaro should have extended Argentina’s lead, Messi would put him through on at least two occasions, and from tonight’s production, he equalled the World Cup chance creation record from Maradona (67).

Even more agonising, Newcastle United-bound Garang Kuol could have sent the game into extra time in the dying seconds of stoppage time. Australia’s unexpected late rally ultimately fizzled out with Argentina now three wins away from securing a third crown.