Argentina advance to the quarterfinals with a 2-1 win over Australia

Messi put Argentina ahead in the 34th minute with his third goal of this year’s tournament and his ninth goal at the World Cup. That’s one more than Diego Maradona.

DOHA, Qatar — Lionel Messi was pushed into the middle of a merry scrum after the game as Argentina’s players jumped up and down to celebrate lifting the trophy World Championship quarter finals.

Messi delivered again for his country and marked the 1,000. Match of his era-defining career with his first goal in the knockout stages of a World Cup to guide Argentina to a 2-1 win over Australia on Saturday.

However, this was not the walkthrough most expected against the unheralded Australians.

At the final whistle, Argentina were as grateful to their goalkeeper as the No 10 with the magic in their boots.

Emi Martinez made a sweeping save in the final seconds of an increasingly tense game to avoid the need for extra time and the potential of another shock in a player-packed World Cup.

“This is the World Cup for you,” said Messi. “All games are difficult and the important thing is that you win.”

With a swing of his famous left foot in the 34th minute, Messi put Argentina ahead with his third goal of this year’s tournament and ninth overall at the World Cup – one more than Diego Maradona.

“Wow, he’s just amazing,” said Australia coach Graham Arnold.

Julián Álvarez threw himself into the empty net after a hard touch from Australia goalkeeper Mathew Ryan to score the second goal, setting Argentina on course to a quarter-final against the Netherlands.

Australia’s comeback in the final 20 minutes was as thrilling as it was unexpected. Craig Goodwin’s shot was deflected by Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez in the 77th minute. Then, amid a late Australian air attack, Garang Kuol had a dramatic late chance when he was released at the far post. As he fired from the spin, his attempt was nipped by Martinez and two Argentinian players fell on their keeper.

“Before we came here, people said we were the worst team at the World Cup and the worst Socceroos team ever,” Arnold said. “It’s gone now.”

The only other time Australia have reached the last 16 – in 2006 – they lost to eventual champions Italy.

Perhaps it’s an omen for Argentina, who have fully recovered from their shock defeat by Saudi Arabia in their first group game and won three games in a row.

As for Messi, he now has 789 goals in a career that could reach a peak on December 18 by lifting football’s biggest trophy in his fifth and likely final World Cup.

The dream of the seven-time World Player of the Year and the tens of thousands of Argentinian fans who dominated the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium and vastly outnumbered the small bags of green and gold-clad Australian fans still lives on and made it feel like a game in Buenos Aires or Rosario.

“The whole of Argentina would like to be here, but it’s not possible,” said Messi. “This bond, this union that we have, it’s beautiful.”

After Messi’s goal, Argentina fans jumped, swayed and twirled their scarves to celebrate their favorite player’s latest ingenuity.

Up to this point he had been quiet, supplanted by a compact and defensively solid Australian team. However, he is never quiet for long.

Messi sent an inside pass to the edge of the box and kept running until he was finally released by Nicolas Otamendi for a touch to smash his finish through the long legs of Australian defender Harry Souttar – the tallest outfield player at the World Cup.

And when Alvarez added the second, it looked like Argentina would ride to victory. Messi started to put on a show and a dribble from 40 yards wowed the crowd as he slalomed past three defenders and was tackled just as he was about to shoot.

“MESSI! MESSI!” came the chant.

However, after Argentina substitute Lautaro Martinez missed a one-on-one chance, Australia had the best of the late chances after putting Souttar ahead in added time for his aerial threat.

“We gave everything,” said Australian striker Jackson Irvine through tears, “but it wasn’t enough.” Argentina advance to the quarterfinals with a 2-1 win over Australia

Laura Coffey

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