DOHA – Lionel 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.
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, which 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 when leading 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 down 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.
But when Goodwin’s wild effort deflected in off Fernandez there was a twist. The game opened up and Messi took it up a level, twice setting up Lautaro Martinez only for the striker to waste the opportunities. Incredibly, that almost proved costly because Australia had chances, too.
Behich went on a mazy run that almost brought the equaliser only for Lisandro Martinez to block his shot at the last. And with the final kick of the game Newcastle United teenager Garang Kuol had a shot well saved by the Argentina goalkeeper.
What drama. But it was Messi smiling at the end.
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