Lionel Messi scores for the first time in a knockout match at a World Cup - and leads Argentina with all his class to victory in the round of 16. Australia defends itself as best they can and even creates a chance to equalize. In the end, however, the title favorite celebrates.
Lionel Messi's World Cup dream is alive - perhaps the best footballer of this time has come another step closer to the ultimate crowning achievement in his 1000th competitive game. By no means brilliant, but with brutal effectiveness and his first World Cup goal in a knockout game, the superstar Argentina led to a 2:1 (1:0) in an unequal duel with the underdog Australia and thus to the quarterfinals. The golden trophy? Only three wins away.
Messi (35th) and Julian Alvarez (57th) redeemed the long unimaginative title favorite. With his ninth World Cup goal, "La Pulga" also passed the legendary Diego Maradona (8), only Gabriel Batistuta (10) is ahead of him in the ranking of Argentine World Cup goalscorers. On the way to the third title after 1978 and 1986, the Albiceleste has to improve, on Friday (8 p.m. CET/ZDF, Magenta TV and in the live ticker on ntv.de) the Netherlands are waiting.
The Australian footballers, at most fourth fiddle at home behind cricket, Australian football and rugby, fought passionately, but despite an own goal by Argentinian Enzo Fernandez (77th) missed the first entry into the top eight teams. The second World Cup Round of 16 after 2006 remains a success for the Socceroos around Mathew Leckie.
The young guard behind Messi around Alexis Mac Allister, Fernandez and Alvarez found it extremely difficult in the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. Lots of possession, few ideas and no wit - the South Americans couldn't come up with anything against the massive, deep Australian defensive block.
Messi remained pale for a long time, trotted across the field with sagging shoulders for long stretches of the first half - and was noticed for the first time ever in a scuffle with the Australian Aziz Behich. Out of nowhere, however, the six-time world footballer struck ice cold, his well-considered low shot to take the lead made the tens of thousands of Argentinian supporters in the stands dance.
Messi and Co. didn't do any magic even after the break. The party in blue and white continued immediately, however, because Mathew Ryan made an inexplicable mistake. The Australian keeper frittered away the ball in his own six-yard box, Alvarez thanked him and pushed in without any problems.
The second goal gave Argentina a noticeable boost against limited Australians, and Messi was also much more active in front of 45,032 fans. After a remarkable solo run, he missed the end (65th), but was still celebrated with "Messi, Messi" chants in the final phase. But then Australia joined - and smelled the morning air again. On the other side, Lautaro Martinez missed the decision after Messi's preliminary work (89').