Messi, Alvarez fire Argentina into World Cup last 8

Xinhua | Updated: 2022-12-04 07:23
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Lionel Messi of Argentina competes with Aziz Eraltay Behich of Australia during the match on Dec 3, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

DOHA - Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez scored either side of halftime as Argentina advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals with a 2-1 win over Australia here on Saturday.

Messi put the Albiceleste ahead with a 35th-minute strike, and Alvarez doubled their lead by firing home just before the hour after an error from goalkeeper Mathew Ryan.

Messi's goal, which came in his 1,000th game for club and country, marked the first time he has scored in a World Cup knockout match.

The result means Argentina will face the Netherlands in Lusail on Friday for a place in the semifinals. Graham Arnold's men will go home frustrated at coming agonizingly close to a place in the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time.

As expected, Argentina dominated possession from the outset against an Australian side that looked to defend deep and hit their opponents on the counterattack.

But while Enzo Fernandez, Alexis Mac Allister and Rodrigo De Paul saw plenty of the ball, they struggled to find space as Aaron Mooy and Keanu Baccus protected a compact back four.

It took 17 minutes for either side to muster their first shot on goal. Messi found Alejandro Gomez in space on the left wing and the Sevilla winger turned around his marker before blasting a shot well over the crossbar.

The Socceroos were well organized in defense but lacked a creative spark going forward. Their best chance of the first half came when Harry Souttar latched onto a Riley McGree corner only to see his header smothered by a crowd of defenders.

Argentina went ahead in the 35th minute when Mac Allister threaded a pass into the box that Nicolas Otamendi laid off for Messi. The Paris Saint-Germain star took one touch before angling a left-footed shot past Ryan into the far corner.

The difference in quality between the teams became more apparent after the interval as the Albiceleste's slick triangular passing left Australia looking ragged.

Messi had a shot comfortably saved by Ryan after deflecting off Milos Degenek, but the Australian goalkeeper was at fault shortly after as the Albiceleste doubled their lead.

Ryan received a Kye Rowles back-pass with a heavy first touch as he tried to wrong-foot De Paul. Alvarez pounced, turning and shooting in the same motion to send the ball into an unguarded net.

Argentina's fans were in a delirious mood, and Messi drew chants of "OIe" as he rolled back the years with a mazy run before his shot was deflected out for a corner.

The Socceroos pulled a goal back when Goodwin's 25-yard effort following a repelled cross deflected in off Fernandez's head.

The momentum was suddenly with Australia and they almost drew level in the 82nd minute when Aziz Behich charged into the box, slaloming around four players, before his shot was blocked by a lunging Lisandro Martinez.

Lautaro Martinez, a 71st-minute substitute for Alvarez, had three chances to score for the South American side in the closing stages, sending his first effort wide before seeing two more attempts stopped by Ryan.

Australia were relentless and Garang Kuol sent Argentine hearts fluttering in the last minute of stoppage time as he turned smartly inside the box only for his low shot to be saved by Martinez.

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