Doha, December 4: Vintage Lionel Messi mesmerised all in his 1000th career match as he helped Argentina get past Australia 2-1 in their last 16 encounter of the FIFA World Cup 2022 on Sunday. The Argentine skipper scored the opening goal at the Ahmad bin Ali stadium, his 789th career goal, as they set up a quarter-final date with the Netherlands.
The Netherlands were the first team to book the last eight tickets in Qatar, beating USA 3-1 in the first knockout game on Saturday.
Argentina went into the halftime break with a 1-0 lead, courtesy Messi’s 35th minute strike, before Julian Alvarez doubled the advantage early in the second half. Alvarez’s 57th minute goal gave Argentina breathing space in a match dominated by the South American side. Australia though gave a scare to the two-time champions with a goal in the 77th minute, when Craig Goodwin’s shot was deflected off Enzo Fernandez’s face for an own goal.
In the end, Messi and co. held their nerves to progress into the next round.
Messi put Argentina ahead after 35 minutes with a coolly taken strike low into the corner for his 94th international goal to pass the great Diego Maradona’s tally of eight World Cup goals for the South Americans.
Julian Alvarez added a second close to the hour mark after a howler by keeper Mat Ryan that put the game beyond Australia.
Argentina took a while to get into a match that started off scrappy, with Alejandro Gomez, Enzo Fernandez and Alvarez combining well but unable to break down a resolute defence.
Gomez had an early chance when he was clear on the left and cut inside but fired off a shot that went wildly wide, while Messi struggled to make his mark in the early exchanges.
Australia had their best chance from a corner near the half hour mark when Harry Souttar, over two metres tall, climbed high to head down from a corner but his effort lacked power.
Buoyed by rapturous, overwhelmingly Argentine support that sang and bounced in unison on all four sides of the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Argentina pressed and finally made the breakthrough, with Messi involved in the start and finish.
He took a free kick that was cleared and eventually found Alexis Mac Allister and he passed to Nicolas Otamendi, who tapped it back for Messi to fire low beyond the reach of the outstretched Ryan.
Argentina and Messi came back from the interval hunting for more and got their second in the 57th minute when Ryan bungled a backpass under pressure from Rodrigo De Paul and was dispossessed by Alvarez, who turned and fired home.
But Australia refused to give in and pressed forward with a succession of attacks and pulled a goal back after 77 minutes when substitute Craig Goodwin’s powerful and speculative shot took a huge deflection off Fernandez and flew into the net.
With nothing to lose and a chance to take the match into extra time, Australia pushed forward and nearly scored again a few minutes later, when Aziz Behich darted into the area and was goalbound before a brilliant saving tackle by Lisandro Martinez.
Argentina looked dangerous late on as they battled for a third goal, with Lautaro Martinez firing wide.
Messi spurned two clear chances in the dying minutes and Australia were painfully close to an equaliser when Garang Kuol missed in front of goal with seconds left in stoppage time.
Netherlands beat USA 3-1 to reach quarter-finals
Denzel Dumfries starred with a goal and two assists for the Netherlands as they became the first team to reach the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup 2022 with a convincing 3-1 victory over the United States on Saturday. Apart from Dumfries, Memphis Depay and Daley Blind scored for the Netherlands, while substitute Haji Wright scored the only goal for the USA at the Khalifa International stadium.
Netherlands will play Argentina, who beat Australia 2-1, in the last 8 stage. And it’s the end of the road for the young and energetic US side.
Depay put the Netherlands in the lead in the 10th minute, before Blind doubled the advantage in the first half stoppage time. After trailing 0-2 at the halftime break, the USA scrambled a goal in the 76th minute through Wright to reduce the lead. But it did not last long for them with Dumfries, who assisted both the Netherlands’ first half goals, sealing the match with a strike in the 81st minute.
The Dutch had looked to be comfortably in command of the opening Round of 16 tie in front of 44,846 spectators with two goals scored in similar fashion as Dumfries crossed from the right for Depay to net first in the 10th minute, and then Blind on the stroke of halftime.
But Wright pulled a goal back to offer the Americans hope of a comeback.
That lasted only five minutes, however, before Dumfries sealed a man-of-the-match performance with his 81st-minute goal, tucking away Blind’s cross from the left.
But despite advancing to their seventh World Cup quarter-final since 1974, it was another Dutch performance at the Qatar World Cup that will not please their demanding supporters.
They were unusually cautious at times, played at a slow tempo, and lived dangerously as they allowed the Americans plenty of possession.
Yet they still looked a notch better than their opponents.
Cody Gakpo and Dumfries cleared off the line in the second half and goalkeeper Andries Noppert made several saves to keep a clean sheet as the Netherlands extended their unbeaten run since Louis van Gaal returned as coach last year to 19 games.
The Dutch survived an early scare when Christian Pulisic found himself free, and onside, with just the goalkeeper to beat but Noppert, the tallest man at the World Cup, stuck out his right leg to deny a shock opener.
The response from the Netherlands was swift. A series of 20 slick passes ended with Dumfries squaring the ball from right, pulling it back into the path of Depay, who delayed his run into the American penalty box and was unmarked as he smacked home the opener.
The lively start was quickly replaced with a more languid passage of play, the Dutch sitting back as they waited for counter attack chances.
That presented an opportunity for the Americans with Noppert forced to save again from Timothy Weah’s driving shot and Sergio Dest breaking through the defence but unable to get the ball out from under his feet and missing a good opportunity near the end of the first half.
Those missed opportunities were swiftly punished as Dutch broke again down the right and scored a carbon copy of the first goal when Dumfries pulled back his cross for 32-year-old left back Daley Blind to score in his 98th international.
Depay broke away after the break and looked odds-on to provide substitute Steven Bergwijn with the chance to make it 3-0 but played in a poor pass, followed by an American raid up the other end where Gakpo denied Tim Ream from close range.
Dumfries was in the right place to deny Wright in the 75th minute but could do little about the American goal as Pulisic’s cross hit Wright on the heel and the ball looped into the net.
But in the end Dumfries proved decisive for the Dutch to move on to their next challenge against either Argentina or Australia in the last eight next Friday.
(ToI With inputs from agencies)