Avoiding what would have been another World Cup banana skin on Saturday night, Argentina booked their World Cup quarter-final ticket with a 2-1 victory against Australia.
While the South American giants might have opened their Qatar quest with an infamous 2-1 loss at the hands of Saudi Arabia last month, La Albiceleste have come roaring back over the past fortnight.
With attacking icon Lionel Messi stealing all of the headlines on a record-breaking night for the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, the PSG superstar opened the scoring 10 minutes before the interval with a sublime solo strike.
Watching Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez double Argentina’s lead before Australia mounted a late surge following Enzo Fernandez’s unfortunate own goal, Lionel Scaloni’s men were a more than worthy winner here.
Securing what should be a mouth-watering showdown against a high-flying Holland for next week, we have taken a look at the main talking points following Saturday’s battle in Al Rayyan.
A history-making night for Messi
Failing to find a way past Australia’s gritty defence for the opening 35 minutes and cutting the look of a frustrated squad, Argentina were always calling on their attacking talisman to drag them over the finish line.
In what was Messi’s 1000th appearance for both club and country on Saturday night, the 35-year-old put in a real Man of the Match display as he wrote another chapter in La Albiceleste’s history books.
Opening the scoring with a trademark whipped finish and recording his ninth goal at a World Cup finals, that first-half strike also pushed him ahead of Diego Maradona’s overall tally.
With no player at this year’s tournament recording more than Messi’s three strikes, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is desperate to sign off his iconic career with a maiden world crown.
With neutrals from across the globe all hoping that Messi can finally get his hands on the Jules Rimet trophy in what looks set to be his final appearance on the world stage, can anyone stop the PSG legend this winter?
Another Dutch showdown
Eventually managing to wrap up top spot in Group C thanks to their 2-0 win against Poland on November 30th, many had expected what looked set to be a heavyweight showdown against Holland.
With the European icons edging their way past the USA earlier in the day thanks to a 3-1 victory, neutrals will now be treated to a repeat of their semi-final meeting from back in 2014.
With Argentina eventually claiming a nail-biting penalties victory in Sao Paulo, Scaloni’s side will be more than aware that they should face another tricky test on Friday night.
Although the Oranges might have come under real scrutiny after missing out in Russia four years ago, the Netherlands have enjoyed a remarkable resurge since bringing back Louis van Gaal for a third stint in charge.
In fact, in what has become a hugely impressive purple patch, the one-time Manchester United boss finds his side in the midst of a 19-match unbeaten run across all competitions – a run that stems all the way back to June 2021.
Australia do themselves proud
Although Australia might have failed to spring a major World Cup upset in Al Rayyan, the Socceroos should leave Qatar with their heads held high after an eye-catching adventure in the Middle East.
Despite crashing out at the group stage in each of their last three World Cup appearances before traveling out to Qatar this winter, Graham Arnold’s men have gained a string of plaudits.
Punching their first knockout stage ticket since 2006 after claiming a famous 1-0 win against Denmark on November 30th, Australia have certainly inspired a new generation of fans back home.
Gaining a reputation for their rugged approach and almost snatching what would have been a stunning last-gasp equalizer as 18-year-old Garang Kuol wasted a golden chance in injury-time, Arnold has plenty of positives to take away.
Frustrating the South American icons before Messi opened the scoring 10 minutes before the interval with a trademark piece of magic, the Socceroos have proven this winter that they can mix it with world football’s elite.
Argentina: Martinez, Molina, Romero, Otamendi, Acuna, De Paul, Fernandez, Mac Allister, Alvarez, Messi, Gomez
Subs: Tagliafico, Montiel, Palacios, L. Martinez, L. Martinez
Australia: Ryan, Degenek, Souttar, Rowles, Behich, Leckie, Baccus, Mooy, McGree, Irvine, Duke
Subs: Goodwin, Kuol, Maclaren, Karacic, Hrustic
Goals: Argentina: Messi (35′), Alvarez (57′) – Australia: Fernandez ( 77′ OG)
Yellow Cards: Irvine, Degenek
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Szymon Marciniak
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