‘The bond we have is beautiful’: Lionel Messi pays tribute to Argentina fans

<span>Photograph: Molly Darlington/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Molly Darlington/Reuters

Lionel Messi hailed the “beautiful” bond between Argentina’s players and fans after marking his 1,000th professional appearance with a peerless performance, which included a sublimely taken first goal, in the nervy win over Australia.

Argentina’s fixtures have resembled home matches in Qatar, their fans turning stadiums into pulsating cathedrals that inevitably break into full choral worship of Messi. But the entire team was serenaded long after full time even after a stop‑start performance, and Messi highlighted the power of a relationship that has appeared to grow with each game in this tournament.

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“The union and bond we have is something beautiful and it’s what the national team should be,” he said. “It’s unbelievable how they live every single match, how they transmit passion, energy and joy. We’re thankful.”

Messi described the victory, made more difficult after Craig Goodwin’s shot deflected in off Enzo Fernández, as “taking another step forward, achieving another objective”. Of Argentina’s late jitters, he said: “That’s the World Cup for you, the matches are difficult.”

The Argentina manager, Lionel Scaloni, pointed to the turnaround of less than 72 hours between their group match with Poland and this assignment. He said his players would “sleep so late” as a result of their excursions but described them as “born to play these games”.

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Scaloni looked ahead to the quarter-final against the Netherlands, which is a repeat of the countries’ classic meeting at that stage in 1998. “Probably they don’t play as beautifully as previous Dutch teams, but they have strong points and weaknesses we will try to use,” he said. “It will be a beautiful game with two historic national teams. We hope we’ll qualify.”

Graham Arnold was left to rue his underdogs’ flirtation with a seismic shock. Had Garang Kuol not been foiled by Emi Martínez with the game’s final significant action, they would have completed a two-goal comeback and taken proceedings into extra time.

“It’s all about making the nation proud and I’m pretty sure we did that,” he said. “Before we came here everyone said we’re the worst Socceroos team ever to qualify for a World Cup and the worst Socceroos team ever. That’s gone now. We’ve done exceptionally well.”

Nonetheless Arnold admitted a pang of regret. “It’s probably the way I am but even though we’ve been successful I feel like we failed tonight,” he said. “Making the last 16 was not enough – I wanted more.”

Arnold’s contract is up and he would not be drawn on his future, focusing first on an imminent holiday. “I haven’t had any thoughts about it,” he said. “I need a break, I’ll have a rest and no doubt I’ll have good discussions with the organisation.”