Argentina 2-1 Australia
Messi's World Cup journey continues as Argentina hold off Australia
A devout Catholic, Lionel Messi tilted his head to the night sky in gratitude. It has become a familiar sight across every chapter of his luminous career. But here it felt adorned with extra layers of significance, his 789th goal, his first ever in the knockout phase of a World Cup, arriving in his 1,000th match as a senior professional. It was a priceless piece of history from a player seeking, yearning even, to sign off from this tournament in possession of the ultimate prize.
The pursuit is still alive, with his superbly opportunist strike setting up a victory that should have been straightforward but that was, thanks to the pluck of a tireless Australia, in the balance until the very last kick. Only a last-gasp clearance by Lisandro Martinez denied the Socceroos an astonishing equaliser, after Aziz Behich’s deflected shot pulled them back into a contest that looked to have been sealed by Julian Alcarez’s goal. In the end, it was the Argentina supporters, who never stopped chanting, beseeching for the final whistle.
It was quintessential Messi that on an evening when few team-mates came to the boil, he left his indelible mark on this match with minimal warning. For 35 minutes he had been all but invisible, quizzically sizing up opponents he had never expected to encounter. But with one lightning flourish, he seized the stage, angling a low strike through a thicket of Australian legs and peeling away into the corner to take the deafening acclaim.
We were over 8,000 miles from Buenos Aires, but the cacophony that the travelling fans created on a sultry night in Qatar would not have seemed out of place at Boca Juniors. The chants of “Messi, Messi” were overwhelming for Australian players who had never experienced an atmosphere this febrile.
The matches all across the pitch were lopsided: take Messi being bundled into touch by Aziz Behich of Dundee United, or Sevilla full-back Marcos Acuna being scythed down by Jackson Irvine, formerly of Ross County. Given the mismatch between Argentina’s galaxy of all-stars and a Socceroos line-up whose clubs were scattered everywhere from Middlesbrough to the Central Coast, it was a minor miracle that they resisted for as long as they did.
It was one of the great historical quirks that the green-and-gold had vanquished Argentina once before, 4-1 in Sydney on their first meeting in 1988. Diego Maradona was absent that day, prompting one travelling reporter to quip: “Maradona is half our team – and the other half, too.” The same verdict could apply to Messi’s significance to this side. Every time the ball fell within his orbit here, the air crackled with electricity. Every time he quickened his stride, Australia’s back four swarmed to shut him down.
“Park the ute”, you might call these tactics. It drew derision from Argentina fans, given that their early efforts at attack tended to fizzle out into risk-averse back-passes to goalkeeper Matt Ryan. But these Australians seldom purport to be anything other than what they are. As manager Graham Arnold put it: “I know the players who will die for the team and die for each other.” Theirs is a resilience that has brought their anointment at home as a golden generation.
But there is only so long any players can hold out with barely 20 per cent possession. For all their agricultural tackling, which ensured two quick first-half bookings, they were powerless to fend off Messi in full flight. Cutting in from the right, he worked out his options with faultless precision, threading his grubber of a shot through Harry Souttar’s legs and into the corner, beyond Ryan’s desperate dive.
Argentinians saluted their hero with a wall of sound. There are an estimated 90,000 of them in Qatar, and those inside the stadium sensed their stakes for their greatest ever players. The lead was only a single goal, but already for Australia the damage felt terminal. Souttar’s blocked header was the solitary effort they managed in a disjointed first half. How could they expect to mount a comeback with such a vast gulf in class? It was not a question that would detain them for long.
Cruelly, Ryan, such a pillar of strength for Australia in the group phase, was the fall guy for the decisive second goal. Trying to deal calmly with yet another back-pass, this time from Kye Rowlers, he miscued dismally. Unwisely opting for a casual dribble past Rodrigo De Paul, he failed to spot Alvarez rushing up on the blindside. The Manchester City striker pounced in a flash, nudging the ball away from Ryan and steering it on the turn into the gaping net.
Ryan looked as if he wanted the turf to swallow him whole. Australia’s energy, their sense of purpose, appeared depleted. Argentina were emboldened now, with Alvarez carving out ever more glaring holes in their defence. And yet there was, remarkably, an improbable final act to be rewritten. Out of nowhere, Australia snatched a goal, not that you could describe it as intentional. Behich’s cross was cleared only as far as Craig Goodwin, who let fly with a shot that was sailing yards wide – until, that is, it took the heaviest deflection off Enzo Fernandez into the far corner.
Surely, it was a mere consolation? Australia would have none of it, Behich embarking on a brilliant slaloming run, haring past four Argentina defenders to set up one last shot. It was on target, too, until a diving Lisandro Martinez somehow contrived to divert it over the goal. Martin, on the touchline, howled at the moon in agony.
Graham Arnold reaction
"Everyone said we were the worst Socceroo team to qualify for the World cup and the worst Socceroo team ever. That’s gone now. We're the only Socceroo team to win two games at a World Cup. I hope Australia is really, really proud."
Tip of the cap
Fair play to Australia after that performance. They were outmanned in terms of quality but their abrasive, hustling style pushed Argentina all the way. Much like the USA who also went out today you have to think their is more to come from the Socceroos.
I'll just leave this here
Read Piers Morgan's exclusive interview with Oliver Brown HERE.
"It is unbelievable the fans passion, energy and joy. It is unbelievable. "From the start to the end I am thinking about my children, as they are growing and understand better and enjoy it more. This bond is something beautiful. This is how the national team should be. We were excited and eager to be on the pitch again with these people."
Alan Shearer on BBC One
The way Messi works that space. The way he carries the ball when there is much going on around him.
He's got everything. Whenever he gets the ball the whole stadium gets on its feet. It doesn't matter where he is on the pitch, the whole stadium rises.
The celebrations continue
Apt on a day like this
Do you agree?
In his closing comments on BBC Sport, Rio Ferdinand called Messi's display the best individual performance we've seen a the World Cup so far.
What do you reckon? Let us know in the comments below.
Read Jason Burt on Messi's magic
Vamos Messi. His 1,000th appearance was memorable. But it is his 1,003rd that he will be dreaming of
Post match reaction
Argentina goalkeeper Emi Martinez on Australia:
"Today we suffered, they pressed very high. Out of nothing, they scored and it was a bit of an uphill for us."
"Leo (Messi) leads the team forward when we need him and we must help him."
Agony and ecstasy
Sorry to Mat Ryan in advance
'He creates absolute panic'
by Jason Burt at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium
Have had the privilege of seeing Lionel Messi play many times. Even at 35, even with the claims he is not the Messi of old, that he is slowing down he still has the aura, he still has the ability and skill and he creates absolute panic in the opposition. Difference tonight against Australia is we have also seen him be quite aggressive.
Sorry to be a party pooper
I'm going to go out on limb and say the Netherlands will beat Argentina. Messi and co have been made to work very hard to get past some ordinary sides thus far and this will be the first time they come up against a team of genuine top-quality.
Messi is the ace in the pack but I fancy the Dutch.
Mind you I said there was no way Australia were getting back in this game tonight so what do I know...
I very much second this
Excellent second half
A game which lacked dynamism in the first half came alive in the second. Partially, that was down to much better second half display from Argentina, who deserved to go two up after Mat Ryan's terrible error.
But then, the drama. A dose of luck for Australia and suddenly it was game on. Messi was superb but Argentina as a nation would be thanking both Emi and Lisandro Martinez, who each came up with a vital defensive moment to keep their side in front.
The entire Argentina squad is stood in front of their wall of fans bouncing up and down in full song. The Messi bandwagon rolls on.
Argentina are through but what did you make of their performance? Let us know with out live player ratings tool.
FULL TIME: Argentina 2-1 Australia
Argentina will face the Netherlands next Friday in the quarter-finals.
90+6 min: Argentina 2-1 Australia
Finally Australia have their chance!
Kuol turns Martinez at the back post and has a chance to level it but Martinez (Emi this time) makes a huge save.
90+4 min: Argentina 2-1 Australia
Beautiful work again from Messi, who plays a lovely one-two with Martinez but the striker can't score with his fourth shot in the space on ten minutes.
90+2 min: Argentina 2-1 Australia
Martinez has a third chance to score but this time Ryan is out to make a big save.
Moments later, Messi looks to put the icing on the cake with a whipped left-footed shot but he can't keep it down.
90+1 min: Argentina 2-1 Australia
Seven minutes of added time.
Australia have stuck Harry Souttar up top. They need the ball though but they can't get out of their own half.
88 min: Argentina 2-1 Australia
Big chance for Martinez...again.
Messi wins the ball in the Australia half and its three on three. He delays and then feeds Martinez who shot is rubbish to put it frankly.
High, wide and not handsome from the Inter man.
87 min: Argentina 2-1 Australia
Really good 90 seconds for Argentina, who keep possession well before working an opening for Lautaro Martinez but he scuffs his effort on goal.
85 min: Argentina 2-1 Australia
Caution to the wind now for Australia. Can't help but feel we might get one more chance here.
83 min: Argentina 2-1 Australia
Cool heads needed for Argentina but the momentum is clearly with Australia now. Scaloni is going mad in the technical area. His side need to show maturity to see this one out now.
Maturity does not involve theatrical rolling on the floor which we are seeing from Romero right now.
80 min: Argentina 2-1 Australia
It's nearly 2-2!
Behich weaves his way beautifully in from the left and beats Otomendi leaving him free on goal. Only a last-gasp challenge from Lisandro Martinez denies Behich what would have been one of the goals of the tournament.
79 min: Argentina 2-1 Australia
South Korea, Cameroon, Japan, Costa Rica...Australia?
They couldn't could they?
It's back to 2-1 and it's a stroke of fortune for Australia. Goodwin strikes one from ambitious range and it takes a wicked deflection off Lisandro Martinez.
Emi Martinez has no chance. Please disregard the prior post....
76 min: Argentina 2-0 Australia
An overriding theme of this World Cup has been lesser-fancied teams finding a way against the favourites.
South Korea, Cameroon, Japan, Costa Rica...the list goes on.
Sadly it doesn't feel like Australia have it in them to join that list. Game gone slightly flat and Argentina really won't mind.
72 min: Argentina 2-0 Australia
Alvarez is off for Argentina. He had an excellent 25 minutes to start this second half and has surely earned another start in the quarter-final...provided something unthinkable doesn't happen here.
Lautaro Martinez is on.
70 min: Argentina 2-0 Australia
Tim Cahill - I think it's fair to call him an Australian football legend - is sat watching ruefully from the stands.
There will be a fair few Australians pulling exactly the same face.
67 min: Argentina 2-0 Australia
Quickfire chances for Argentina. Acuna whips a great ball in from left which only just evades closing blue and white shirts.
Moments later, Messi finds a pocked of space on the edge of the area and tries to whip one with his left but he can't keep it down.
'Arnold a non-nonsense type'
by Tom Morgan at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium
Sad for the Australians that their World Cup now looks surely over after calamities between the goalkeeper and defence. That second goal will be infuriating for manager Graham Arnold, a non-nonsense type who has instilled a strict and disciplined old-school 4-4-2 system throughout the tournament. Australia had been a team so much greater than the sum of their parts. But now it's surely over for them.
64 min: Argentina 2-0 Australia
Argentina are oozing confidence now and there's hug cheers from their faithful as Messi dances out of his own half while leaving a couple of defenders for dead.
He can't quite get a shot away to finish off a dazzling run.
60 min: Argentina 2-0 Australia
That's the first time Argentina have attempted to properly press and it led to a goal. Food for thought perhaps.
Australia are going to have to loosen things up a bit here now and that will mean more opportunity for Argentina at the other end.
It's two and it's a shocker from Mat Ryan.
The keeper receives the ball under pressure from De Paul and attempts to dribble out of trouble. He's quickly dispossessed and Alvarez is there to punish an awful error.
Australia starring down the barrel now.
53 min: Argentina 1-0 Australia
That back five is already under pressure from Duke though. A loose back pass to Martinez has the Aussie striker interested and the Argentine keeper can only spoon his clearance out of touch.
Hussle like that is what is going to get Australia back into this one.
52 min: Argentina 1-0 Australia
Argentina appear to have switched to a back five now, with Martinez joining Romero and Otamendi at the back.
50 min: Argentina 1-0 Australia
Argentina work an opening for Messi on the outside of the area and he unleashes a stinging, deflected shot. It's straight at Ryan though, who claims it gratefully.
49 min: Argentina 1-0 Australia
Early substitution for Argentina and it's a strange one. Lisandro Martinez of Manchester United replaces Papu Gomez. Defender for attacker...
Surely a change of shape.
47 min: Argentina 1-0 Australia
Early pace is similar to the first half although Australia are deploying a notably higher line.
A risky ploy but one they need to take if they want to get back in this one.
45 min: Argentina 1-0 Australia
We're underway in the second half. Which way will this one go?
The crowds during the England vs Wales were wowed by the legend that is Chesney Hawkes at half-time.
Messi's goal has been met with great fanfare.....in Bangladesh.
Little stat check-in
Messi has now scored 789 career goals...decent.
Messi has also just surpassed Diego Maradona in World Cup goals. Maradona on eight , Lionel Messi on nine.
Only Gabriel Batistuta has more at the World Cup for Argentina.
More pace, incision and variety in attack please
Messi's goal is the difference in what was an otherwise indifferent half. Argentina lacked urgency as Australia pressed and harried them. With that in mind, the men in yellow will be hugely disappointed to have gone a goal down.
For Argentina, I'd say Scaloni will want to see more pace, incision and variety in attack. Messi can only bail you out so many times in a tournament like this and while his threat will remain an ever-present, some assistance from his colleagues would surely be handy.
Messi's goal was the only bit of quality in that half for Argentina. What rating would you give him?
HALF TIME: Argentina 1-0 Australia
Messi pumps his fist as he walks off. His goal has Argentina in a commanding position.
44 min: Argentina 1-0 Australia
It fascinating how much Argentina rely on Messi to inject attacking impetus. Other than his sudden bursts of quality there has been little else. Alvarez, Mac Allister and Gomez have been non-entities in attack.
42 min: Argentina 1-0 Australia
Messi has a coming-together with Souttar and is left rolling on the floor. Indignation from Argentina but that was a decent tackle.
Can Argentina find another before the break?
40 min: Argentina 1-0 Australia
The noise from the Argentina fans is deafening. You could be Buenos Aires. It's astounding.
37 min: Argentina 1-0 Australia
It was Messi that took the initiative to inject some urgency into Argentina there. Otherwise it has been a fairly lacklustre start from the favourites. That doesn't matter now though and Australia have a real mountain to climb.
It comes from a free kick on the right. Messi starts a neat move on the edge of the box and picks up a cushioned ball from Alvarez before calmly placing the ball into the bottom left corner of the net. Ryan can do nothing. Argentina lead and milestone prophecy for Messi has been fulfilled.
31 min: Argentina 0-0 Australia
On two or three occasions now Messi has picked the ball up in dangerous areas before being very quickly closed down by Mooy and Baccus. He simply can't get into this game at present but that has as much to do with the Aussie work rate as anything else.
30 min: Argentina 0-0 Australia
An excellent corner heads straight towards Harry Souttar, who gets there first but Otomendi does just enough to put the big centre back off.
Argentina need to inject some urgency into this game before Australia beat them to the punch.
28 min: Argentina 0-0 Australia
Another good diagonal ball leads to another promising position for Australia. That pass is really working for them.
Romero then miscues a clearance...I'm going to say it, Australia are on top here.
24 min: Argentina 0-0 Australia
Australia earn a corner after a decent move begins with their gloriously bald lynchpin Aaron Mooy. They are just starting to grow into this in an attacking sense. More of the ball means more confidence.
Not very much of a press apparent from the Argentinians when out of possession.
21 min: Argentina 0-0 Australia
Argentina are clearly willing to take their time here but this game is being played at a very comfortable pace for the Aussies at present.
Makes you wonder where the pace is in this Argentina team...
18 min: Argentina 0-0 Australia
Australia get their first sniff of the Argentina box as left-back Behich drives into the area. He gets all the way down to the byline but leaves the cut back too long and Argentina quell any danger.
17 min: Argentina 0-0 Australia
Messi whips a quick pass wide to Gomez who cuts in on his right foot looking for a shot. He makes just enough room but cant keep it down.
That's still rising as it leaves the camera shot and is very much into row Z.
15 min: Argentina 0-0 Australia
There are gesticulations from both Otamendi and Romero in the heart of Argentina's defence. They want more options from their midfielders as they look to launch attacks.
You've got to say Australia will be happy with the first 15 minutes here.
12 min: Argentina 0-0 Australia
Alavarez works a nice one-two with De Paul and breaks into the Australian half. His run takes him all the way into the box but he's closed down well before he can get a shot away.
10 min: Argentina 0-0 Australia
Australia are so deep here that when they win the ball back there's nowhere to go. They have to be disciplined and sitting deep is part of that but giving the ball away in their own half is a recipe for disaster against Messi and co.
8 min: Argentina 0-0 Australia
Baccus goes in heavily on Messi and Argentina are awarded a free kick. It's clear, even at this stage, that the Aussies aren't going to let the great man settle early.
Physicality is the order of the day.
5 min: Argentina 0-0 Australia
Just seen a replay of the handball and all I'll say is that I've seen those given. Possible Australia have dodged an early bullet there.
4 min: Argentina 0-0 Australia
Interesting to note how deep Messi is coming early in this one in search of the ball.
Argentina want a a handball after a cross strikes an Australian defender in the area. The ref waves away the protests.
2 min: Argentina 0-0 Australia
Would love to say that this one has started a pace but it's very steady in the opening stanzas. Both sides feeling each other out with Argentina dominating possession.
Give us your view on how each player is performing with our live player ratings tool.
0 min: Argentina 0-0 Australia
The Aussies get us underway....queue huge roars from the stands.
Kick off moments away
Right settle in then all. Hopefully we're on for a good one here.
Jason Burt is on site
Give us your match predictions
The teams are in the tunnel
Great colours on show tonight. The Aussie yellow against the traditional blue and white of Argentina looks really really nice.
Anthems next. Two decent ones for my money.
Another important mention
One milestone that did slip my net ahead of this one is that it's Messi's 100th appearance as Argentina captain tonight.
Big night for Premier League players
The additions of Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez to this Argentina team in the match against Poland appeared to really work for Scaloni. The former takes a modicum of attacking pressure off Messi in between the lines, while Alvarez is a real poacher in and around the penalty the area.
They retain their places tonight. Will the affect be the same?
Update from down under
It's the crack of dawn in Australia but this suggests the whole country is watching
Here’s a fun pre-match factoid for you all. Australia have played Argentina seven times in total but have only won once. That success came when the nations first met in 1988. Australia’s forward on that occasion - Graham Arnold.
This is certainly an occasion when first-hand experience of beating the famous blue and white may come in handy.
The Aussies holding their own
In the face of raucous Argentine support, the Australian fans in attendance are doing their best to match them....ish.
Argentina and Australia will understandably be fully focused on tonight's proceedings but its worth reminding you all about what, or rather who, awaits the winner.
The Netherlands put in their best display of the tournament so far to beat the USA 3-1 in the first match of the last 16. They will face the winner of this one next Friday.
There is a feeling of something prophetic in the air this evening with arguably the greatest footballer of the last 30 years making his 1000th appearance on the day when the man widely considered to be the greatest player ever entered end-of-life care.
Read the latest on Pele’s condition HERE.
The managers' views
Both sides play on short rest tonight having concluded their qualification on Wednesday. Both managers have had their say.
Australia, who finished second in the group, played at 6pm and we finished first but played at 10pm. We went to bed at 4am and that has an impact when you have a game in 48 hours. We will break our backs on this pitch to compete, we know how difficult this World Cup is, this is football.
No disrespect to Argentina, but it's 11 v 11, and it's 10 blue shirts against 10 yellow shirts, and it's a battle. It's a war, and we've got to fight that and make sure that the boys are in great physical shape, great mental shape, they've got great energy, and we go out there and give it all guns blazing.
The GOAT (if you're anyone else) has landed
The real GOAT...if you're an Aussie
More than just attack
Argentina's star-studded attacking options will always make headlines but it's defensive rigidity that gives this team it's real edge.
Lionel Scaloni's team have given up only 11 shots in the tournament so far. That's fewer than any other side.
Keep that record up and there's no telling how high this side could go in Qatar.
'We have to alert to everything'
Australia's centre back Harry Souttar on the challenge of facing a side which boasts Lionel Messi in its ranks.
We have to be alert to everything. It won't come down to just one individual to stop him. Messi has been one of the two standout players in the world [along with Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo], and it will be a long time until we see their likes again. But, for tomorrow night, for 90 minutes, he's just one of the players we have to face.
These photos were taken over an hour before kick off....
Will their enthusiasm maintain? My bet would be yes but my word supporting Argentina looks exhausting.
Tonight is Lionel Messi’s 1000th professional appearance as he wins his 169th international cap on top of 778 games for Barcelona and 53 for his current side PSG.
Such milestones deserve a performance of equal stature. Can Messi oblige tonight?
Let us know your score prediction
Fancy and Argentina win or a historic Australia upset? Maybe a bore draw and penalty shootout is what you had in mind.
Whatever your thoughts of the winner, give us a score prediction below!
Team news - Australia
Graham Arnold makes one change from the side that beat Denmark 1-0 earlier this week with Aziz Behich coming in for Craig Goodwin.
Australia starting XI: Ryan, Degenek, Souttar, Rowles, Behich, Leckie, Mooy, Irvine, Baccus, McGree, Duke
Subs: Atkinson, Karacic, Tilio, Wright, Maclaren, Hrustic, Mabil, Redmayne, Devlin, Vukovic, Deng, Kuol, Goodwin, King, Cummings
Team news - Argentina
Julian Alvarez and Alexis Mac Allister retain their starting spots after good performances against Poland in the final group game. Lautaro Martinez has to settle for a place among the substitutes.
Argentina starting XI: Damian Martinez, Molina, Romero, Otamendi, Acuna, De Paul, Fernandez, Mac Allister, Gomez, Messi, Alvarez
Subs: Armani, Foyth, Tagliafico, Montiel, Paredes, Pezzella, Di Maria, Rulli, Palacios, Correa, Almada, Rodriguez, Dybala,
Welcome to the Messi show
Welcome to the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium for the last 16 clash between Argentina and Australia - the latest event to play host to the Lionel Messi show.
From scoring a vital goal to break the deadlock against Mexico to missing a penalty against Poland, the greatest player of his generation has already generated copious headlines - both good and bad - but things are about to go up a notch.
Knockout football is where the truly great players show their worth and Messi will know, whatever the result here this evening, ultimate responsibility for Argentina’s fate will be placed on his shoulders.
One real positive for him and his posse is that they appear to be cresting just at the right time. An opening round loss to Saudi Arabia put them on the back foot but convincing 2-0 wins against both Poland and Mexico have righted the ship for one of this tournament’s big favourites.
Manager Lionel Scaloni may well have stumbled on something with the selections of Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez against Poland. Both appeared to take the load off Messi somewhat in the final third, allowing their talisman to roam more freely between the lines.
Argentina are prohibitive favourites for this one - understandable given the array of world-class talent they have at their disposal - but their opponents tonight will be a tough but to crack.
If Graham Arnold’s Australia side have shown anything at this tournament it’s that their brand of dogged pragmatism can cause problems for any side they come up against.
Harry Souttar, Mat Ryan and Aaron Mooy give the Aussies the sort of hard-working spine needed, at the very least, if they want to trouble a top side like Argentina.
Is there a gulf in class? Yes. But if this World Cup has taught us anything so far it’s that any presumption or proclamation of certainly can quickly be made to look rather silly.