It is often written that the World Cup begins in the round of 16. That the group stage is to competition what a trial run is to the price of the Arc de Triomphe: pleasant training. In this unique World Cup by so many points – a single city to bring together all the participants, a staggered period and countless controversies – Argentina has taken another path. Defeated when they entered the competition by Saudi Arabia, Lionel Messi’s teammates have already played (and won) a 32e in the final against Mexico, then a 16e final against Poland. For their third meeting in a row where a defeat would have eliminated them, the Albiceleste won on Saturday, December 3, against Australia (2-1).
In an Ahmad-Bin-Ali stadium in Doha committed to his cause, and resounding with the chorus of tens of thousands of Argentines, everyone had eyes only for him: the “little” Lionel Messi, who once again, carried his team to the next round. For the thousandth game of his career, the seven-time Ballon d’Or again delivered his team. Determined, even going so far as to chase an Australian defender, nag him and recover a well-placed touch, “the Pulga” opened the scoring in a forest of Australian legs (1-0, 35e). His ninth goal in the World Cup – he thus joins Cristiano Ronaldo – and, more surprisingly, the first in a knockout phase. Applied, if not very inspired, the Albiceleste did not take the surprise guest of these round of 16 lightly.
Lionel Scaloni had warned his troops. “To believe that Australia will be easy is a mistake. At the World Cup, you represent your country and that multiplies your strengths”, warned the Argentine coach, relieved, after the qualification of his players against Poland. If France came back from the opening of the Australian mark to finally win (4-1), neither Tunisia nor Denmark managed to divert the players of the island-continent from their game plan. “We are not candidates for anything, we are favorites for nothing. We are a team that will fight but we must not believe that we are going to be world champions because we won tonight.continued the Argentinian technician.
Australia uninhibited again
Because against his team, Australia, one of the little thumbs of the tournament, had no complex. “We play 11 against 11. There are not eleven Messi, there is only one”, insisted the Australian defender Milos Degenek before the meeting. Fan of Lionel Messi but determined to cut short – if possible – his international career, the Socceroos side assured that his team had ” learned a lot “ from his debut against the French. “We showed them a little too much respect in that first game. » Expecting to face an Albiceleste level up a notch from the first round, Milos Degenek did not hide Australia’s new ambitions.
Without hesitation, the Australians started the match like the previous three. As they had announced. “I don’t think anyone expected us to win a game, so two in the same World Cup is crazy”, insisted coach Graham Arnold on Friday. Second assumed knives of the competition, the Socceroos did not intend to come down from their cloud anytime soon. Aziz Behich’s partners are not a team capable of technically dominating their opponent, but their physical impact and their way of projecting themselves without multiplying the ball touches makes them capable of picking off any opponent, as long as he leave him the slightest space.
The French – who could have found themselves trailing 0-2 –, the Tunisians, then the Danes saw that fortune smiled on the audacious Aussies. The Argentines too, like Craig Goodwin’s goal, taking over without asking for a ball returned by the Argentine defense from outside the penalty area. Countered, the strike of the Australian substitute, already a scorer against the Blues, left the goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez, without reaction (2-1, 77e). And initiated an uncertain endgame.
A quarter-final against the Netherlands
Fortunately for the South Americans, Rodrigo De Paul’s partners had known how to pick their opponent when he presented his flank. Benefiting from pressing led by the midfielder of Atlético Madrid to the Australian goalkeeper, Julian Alvarez scored the second Argentinian goal (2-0, 57e). At the end of the game, the Albiceleste could have taken shelter. But neither Lautaro Martinez nor Messi, on several occasions, managed to reverse the Australian defense. And they could have regretted it, if Martinez had not intervened in the last minute, on a point-blank shot from Garang Kuol.
Milos Degenek was right: on Saturday, his team did not face “eleven Lionel Messi”. But only one was enough to tip this duel of the southern lands in favor of Argentina. The thousandth outing of “la Pulga” as a professional player will not have been his last in the World Cup. Having set the stadium on fire in the second half after a 40-meter incursion in which he dribbled past five Australians to the penalty area, before being caught in extremis, Lionel Messi put Argentina on their feet. shoulders. In 2018, his team lost at this stage of the competition after a crazy match against Benjamin Pavard’s France (3-4); Determined to conquer the only title he lacks, the Paris Saint-Germain player did not let the Australians smash his dreams.
“It’s a lot of joy to have passed this milestone and to have taken another step towards the goal”, declared, happy, the player, named man of the match. For him, the Argentines controlled the game, and could have sealed the fate. “The end was complicated because we conceded that goal and we suffered a bit. But it’s the World Cup, it’s normal that there are difficulties. »
Failing to be brilliant in the game, his Argentina is mounting pressure, and is shaping up to be an increasingly tough opponent as the elimination rounds go by. For his thousand and first meeting, the Argentine captain has an appointment on Friday with the Netherlands (8 p.m., metropolitan time). Faced with an opponent of a different caliber (winner of the United States on Saturday, 3-1), the Albiceleste will once again be keen to extend the chorus of their supporters into the Qatari night.