Lionel Messi and Argentina will continue their 2022 World Cup quest after beating Australia 2-1 in a controlling performance with a mildly-nervy ending in Qatar in Saturday’s Round of 16 meeting.
WATCH ARGENTINA vs AUSTRALIA FULL MATCH REPLAY
Messi and Julian Alvarez scored for the Albiceleste, who will play at least one more round that the 2018 tournament after taking a comfortable lead but dealing with a wickedly-deflected goal from Australia’s Craig Goodwin that’s likely to go down as a 77th-minute own goal.
Argentina will square off with the Netherlands at 2pm ET Friday.
[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]
Socceroos’ Cinderella run ends as Messi scores, Argentina runs match
The headlines will once again, predictably, focus on Lionel Messi scoring for the third time in four matches for Argentina, perhaps dancing toward a final in the final World Cup for the greatest player in the sport.
But this should again be a look back at Argentina’s tight unit, as the Albiceleste held another nation to a microscopic expected goal total in Qatar.
Argentina has conceded thrice in four matches, with two goals coming off golazos in the loss to Saudi Arabia and one on a wicked deflection Saturday versus Argentina.
All told, Argentina’s back line, led by sterling Nicolas Otamendi, has conceded 0.15, 0.27, 0.32, and now 0.21 expected goals against in their matches at this World Cup.
That’s not to say that there weren’t nerves after Goodwin’s speculative rocket shot took a wicked turn off Enzo Fernandez to defy the gloves of Emiliano Martinez (and the wherewithal of any goalkeeper). Aziz Behich made an electric run into the box only to see Lisandro Martinez of Manchester United deny his 80th minute bid to make it 2-2.
So Argentina moves on to face the Netherlands, a familiar match-up for the World Cup, and will feel its chances of a semifinal or better improving by the minute.
Stars of the show
Rodrigo De Paul
Lionel Messi goal video: Argentina cuts in front
Julian Alvarez goal video: Oops, Mat Ryan
How to watch Argentina vs Australia live, stream link and start time
Kick off: 2pm ET, Saturday (December 3)
Stadium: Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)
Key storylines, players to watch closely
Without looking ahead and past Australia, Argentina will know that their half of the bracket is shaping up rather nicely for a run to at least the semifinals, where they could potentially meet bitter rivals Brazil. Messi has been in fine form thus far in Qatar, scoring twice and assisting once more during the group stage, even if he was denied from the penalty spot by Poland’s Wojciech Szczesny in the finale. The main question regarding Lionel Scaloni’s selection revolves around Lautaro Martinez (2 starts in the group stage – 0 goals, 0 assists) and Julian Alvarez (1 start – 1 goal, 0 assists) at center forward.
Australia head into Saturday’s showdown having not conceded a goal in 199 minutes, going back to France’s fourth in the opener. The Socceroos have had success since switching to a 4-4-2 in both of their victories, keeping eight, nine and sometimes 10 men behind the ball while averaging just 36.7 percent of possession over the three games. Australia are one of four sides (Morocco, Poland and Japan being the others) to have held less than 40 percent of possession and make it through to the knockout rounds.
Argentina quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 3
World Cup titles: 2 (1978, 1986)
World Cup appearances: 17
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (2nd place)
Coach: Lionel Scaloni
Key players: Lionel Messi, Angel de Maria, Lautaro Martinez
Australia quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 38
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 5
How they qualified: Qualified from AFC via the intercontinental playoffs
Coach: Graham Arnold
Key players: Mathew Ryan, Aaron Mooy, Mathew Leckie