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  • Writer's pictureBruno Asoka

Messi leads Argentina to the quarters, Socceroos out

Argentina defeated Australia 2-1 at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, holding off a late comeback to go to the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup. As he made his 1000th appearance of his brilliant career, Lionel Messi scored one of his signature goals to keep his World Cup dream alive in Qatar.

Argentina had every potential to maintain its chances of winning the World Cup against an Australia team that was participating in the Round of 16 for just the second time in the tournament's history. Argentina had advanced from the group stage for the ninth time in their last 10 World Cups. Due to the Socceroos' comfortable position in the defensive third, Argentina was able to gain possession of the ball early in the game. Even as the first half went on, neither goalkeeper was put to the test, and the lack of urgency persisted.

A genuine quality moment didn't occur until the 35th minute, and Messi, of course, was responsible. The Argentine wizard, making his 100th appearance as his country's captain, was perfectly positioned to take up the ball inside the area before curling a precise attempt into the bottom right corner for his first-ever goal in the World Cup knockout stages.

Similar to the previous half, the second spell began with Australia showing greater intent and giving Argentina more room than they had received earlier. Within five minutes of the game's restart, Lionel Scaloni made a strategy change, and his team used a rare high press to make a costly blunder and double their lead. A mistake by goalkeeper Mathew Ryan just beyond the penalty area allowed Julián Alvarez to sneak in and skillfully tuck away his second goal of the competition, presumably knocking Graham Arnold's team out of the game.

However, Argentina didn't always get their way. Emiliano Martnez was left alone after substitute Craig Goodwin's long-range attempt took a wicked deflection and reduced the deficit against the flow of play. There were more worries to come, as Lisandro Martnez's last-ditch block prevented Aziz Behich from scoring a World Cup miracle goal as the full-back made a move through the defense before being expertly stopped by the Manchester United defender.

It simply wasn’t to be for Australia in the end, though, who paid the price for one mistake too many against high class opposition. Former two-time winners Argentina advanced to the last eight where they will meet the Netherlands in a repeat of the 1998 quarter-final - a match so well remembered for Dennis Bergkamp’s iconic 90th minute winner.

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