World Cup English

Messi brilliance keeps Argentina on track

Lionel ‘La Pulga’ Messi proved once again beyond any measure of a doubt that he is ever the quintessential player for the biggest occasions in the global football arena as his indomitable brilliance led Argentina towards the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup.

The pressing task for Argentina and their stellar captain was to contain the upbeat Sockeroos in the Round of 16, which they succeeded capably in a match that also aptly celebrated the historic occasion of not only Messi’s 1,000 official career match but his 100th as captain of the Albiceleste.

Messi was unquestionably the man who stepped up with decisiveness and flair to break the first half deadlock with a goal which was also his first in a World Cup knockout tie and paved the way to a 2-1 victory which should have been much more comfortable than it turned out to be.

Argentina had found Australia resilient and awkward in their eagerness to chase down every ball, with almost every man in possession high up the pitch. Things became even more frustrating for the South Americans as the Aussies became even bolder, forcing a couple of dicey corners.

The pace finally settled down with Argentina beginning to win free kicks deeper in the Socceroos’ half, which was when a long-lurking Messi capitalized and sprung into action. In the 35th minute he took a kick wide on the right, raced ahead to glide inside, picked up a return pass from Nicolas Otamendi and proceeded to unleash a low drive through a defender’s legs and out of reach of a desperate, diving Mat Ryan’s right hand.

After that the pace picked up relentlessly from both teams, albeit with next to nothing in terms of chances to show for their work.

Argentina was fast to take advantage of some sloppiness by the Sockeroos to extend their lead when keeper Ryan was caught in possession by Rodrigo de Paul so Julian Alvarez could score.

In the 76th minute the Aussies had a lucky break when Craig Goodwin’s shot was heading wide but struck Enzo Fernandez on the back and flew into Martinez’s left-hand corner as the goalkeeper moved right.

Messi and Lautaro Martinez could have extended the scoreline in stoppage time twice each had luck been on their side.

Delighted, albeit exhausted, Messi and his boys are now eagerly looking ahead to the much-anticipated quarter-final thriller against Netherlands in could be a re-run of the bitter and bruising 1978 World Cup Final encounter in Buenos Aires.

The Albiceleste have six days to regroup and refresh before confronting even more determined opposition in the form of Louis van Gaal’s Dutchmen.