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Messi stars as Argentina reach World Cup quarters

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Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a goal
Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a goal

Lionel Messi starred as Argentina progressed to the quarter-finals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup with a 2-1 win over Australia at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Doha, Qatar yesterday.

Messi marked the 1,000th senior game of his career with a measured finish for the breakthrough goal late in the first half, and Mat Ryan’s error allowed Julian Alvarez to double the advantage early in the second half.

There were late scares for Argentina after Craig Goodwin’s shot deflected in off Enzo Fernandez, and it needed a dramatic tackle from Lisandro Martinez and a fine save from Emiliano Martinez for them to hold on.

It was a spirited effort from Graham Arnold’s side, who can be proud of their tournament, but it is Messi and Argentina who will face the Netherlands in the last eight. This is not always a fluent Argentina side but with the little genius in the team they can dream.

Aziz Behich may regret his decision to confront Messi. With the game surprisingly sterile, a rare bit of pressing from the Argentina Captain prompted the left-back to square up to him and then give away a foolish free kick soon after. The game changed. The goal followed.

Once ahead, Argentina introduced Lisandro Martinez and reverted to three at the back just as they had while leading against Mexico. It was a cautious move, but Lionel Scaloni appears determined to learn the lesson of that defeat to Saudi Arabia in the opening game.

There seemed little threat of a repeat once Ryan had erred. Closed by Alvarez and Rodrigo de Paul, his misguided attempt to dribble between them proved costly. Alvarez dispossessed him and the Manchester City striker then finished neatly.

This was Messi’s best game of the tournament. He had the most shots and created the most chances. It needed his magic to unlock Australia and once the game opened, he was able to enjoy himself. Argentina have been strong favourites in every game so far and a feature of these matches has been Messi’s attempts to find space when the opposition is set on stifling him. (C.D)

Monday, December 5, 2022 – 01:00

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