Al Rayyan, Qatar, Dec 3 (EFE).- Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez staked Argentina to a 2-0 lead against Australia in Saturday’s World Cup 2022 knockout stage match here, but a fortunate deflection allowed the Socceroos to halve the deficit and the Albiceleste needed a big save from their goalkeeper to hang on for the win.
The two-time champions will face the Netherlands in the quarterfinals
Messi, 35, has said that Qatar 2022 – his fifth World Cup – will be his last.
The seven-time Ballon d’Or has scored 98 goals for Argentina, including nine in the World Cup, but the team’s best finish so far in the Messi era was runners-up to Germany in 2014.
And prior to Saturday, he had never scored in the knockout stage of the competition.
Australia, making only their second appearance in the round of 16, hoped to keep the game close enough that the outcome would turn on a single play or a penalty shootout.
While Argentina dominated possession, they didn’t manage a shot on target before Messi’s goal in the 35th minute, which came just as the Australians were daring to think that they could make it to half-time without conceding.
The Socceroos dealt with a free kick into the area, but Argentina regained possession and Alexis Mac Allister passed the ball to Nicolas Otamendi, who settled it for Messi to beat Australia keeper Mat Ryan with a low blast just inside the post.
Goal No. 798 for club and country came in Messi’s 1,000th match as a professional and made him Argentina’s all-time leading scorer in the World Cup by one goal over the late Diego Maradona.
The score remained 1-0 until the 57th minute, when pressure from Rodrigo de Paul caused Ryan to lose the ball to Julian Alvarez, who slammed it into the unguarded net.
The Manchester City man’s second goal of the tournament appeared to nail down the win for Argentina, but Australia got back in the match 20 minutes later as Craig Goodwin’s harmless-looking attempt from 30 yards took a sharp deflection off Enzo Fernandez and into the far corner of keeper Emi Martinez’s net.
Australia flew forward in search of an equalizer. It took a sliding block by defender Lisandro Martinez to snuff out a chance for Aziz Behich in the 82nd minute and Emi Martinez had to come off his line two minutes later to intercept a dangerous cross.
Lautaro Martinez forced a stop from Ryan in the third minute of stoppage time, but the final chance fell to Australia’s 18-year-old Garang Kuol, who watched Emi Martinez make a tremendous save to see out the game for the Albiceleste. EFE