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Messi is a footballing God! Argentina winners, losers & ratings as Leo carries Scaloni's side into World Cup quarter-finals

00:28 GMT+3 04/12/2022
Lionel Messi Argentina
Lionel Scaloni's side edged past Australia to set-up a mouth-watering meeting with the Netherlands - and their No.10 was at his devastating best.

Lionel Messi has his first goal in the knockout stage of a World Cup, and boy was it a crucial one, with the Argentina captain breaking the deadlock out of nowhere in a hard-fought 2-1 win over Australia.

Up until that point, the Socceroos had frustrated the life out of the Argentina fans, who once again took over nearly an entire stadium here in Qatar.

They had come to see Lionel Messi mark the 1000th game of his incredible career with another masterclass, and they eventually got one, but, for the first 35 minutes, pretty much nothing happened.

The No.10 was quickly surrounded by yellow shirts every time he received the ball and he struggled to impose himself on the proceedings.

Nobody else in an Argentine shirt looked like making a breakthrough either.

If history has taught us anything, though, it's that Messi only needs a split second to score, and that's precisely what he did, reacting first to what looked more like a loose touch than a lay-off from Nicolas Otamendi.

That lethal left foot took care of the rest, with the Paris Saint-Germain star simply passing the ball into the bottom corner of the Australia net.

Julian Alvarez then took advantage of a shocking mistake from Mathew Ryan to make it 2-0 and although Australia set up a tense finale courtesy of a speculative shot from Craig Goodwin that deflected in off Enzo Fernandez, Argentina held on thanks to a terrific late block from Lisandro Martinez, and a fine stop from namesake Emiliano.

Below, GOAL breaks down the winners, losers and ratings from another memorable night for Messi's Argentina...

  • Lionel Messi Argentina

    The Winners

    Lionel Messi:

    Pablo Zabaleta admitted to BBC Radio 5 Live before the game that the Argentina side he used to play in didn't really have a Plan B, primarily because Plan A was usually so effective. "If you have Messi next to you," he explained, "you just pass the ball to Messi. That's all we had to do. I know we rely on him a lot but when he finds those small spaces outside the box, he is always dangerous." Messi's 789th goal perfectly illustrated that point. He had been frustrated until the 35th minute, losing the ball with unusual regularity because of the intense pressure he found himself put under by the Socceroos. But when Australia allowed Messi to find one of those small spaces, he predictably punished them. It's now nine World Cup goals for Messi, and a first in the last 16. Who would dare bet against him adding to that tally before Qatar 2022 is out? This was vintage Messi. One classic surge from the halfway line prompted the supporters behind the goal to start bowing before him. And why not? The man is a footballing god.

    Manchester City:

    We knew last summer that Manchester City had signed one outstanding young striker in Erling Haaland. What we didn't know is that they had also picked up another by snapping up Julian Alvarez. Those who had seen the Argentine play for River Plate knew he was a forward of serious potential, but nobody expected him to become such a pivotal player for his country. Not this quickly, at least. He was only meant to be Lautaro Martinez's understudy; Alvarez has instead taken centre stage. There's every chance of him returning to the Eithad as a bona fide superstar.

    Lisandro Martinez:

    Talk about making an impact. Lisandro Martinez probably didn't expect to have much to do when he came on just after half-time. Argentina were a goal to the good at the time, and Australia had yet to even have a shot on target. What's more, just a few minutes after his introduction, Alvarez made it 2-0. It looked like game over. However, Goodwin's deflected strike rattled Argentina and Australia looked certain to draw level when Behich embarked upon the run of his life in the 81st minute. The left-back did absolutely everything right after slaloming his way through the Albiceleste back-line but his goal-bound shot was sensationally blocked by Martinez. The raucous celebration said it all. He knew what he'd just done: won the game for Argentina.

  • Lautaro Martinez Argentina

    The Losers

    Mathew Ryan:

    In this era of building from the back, we're seeing more and more goalkeeping gaffes. Playing the ball out of defence is a dangerous game and it's believed that the reward is worth the risk. That's not going to make Mathew Ryan feel any better about his howler, though. The Copenhagen shot-stopper is the most experienced player in Australia's squad. He should have known better than to even attempt to dribble his way out of his six-yard box given he was coming under intense pressure from Rodrigo De Paul after a heavy first touch. Ryan played a pivotal role in Australia beating both Tunisia and Denmark to progress to the last 16 but the sad thing now is that his campaign will probably be best remembered for an atrocious error that cost his team dearly.

    Lautaro Martinez:

    It's actually getting a little difficult to watch Lautaro Martinez's efforts at Qatar 2022. Primarily because they're so painfully wayward. He should have ensured a far more comfortable finish to this match for Argentina, when Messi teed him up twice in the closing stages, but he fired high and wide with his first strike before then shooting straight at Ryan with his second. Scaloni really is blessed that Alvarez has caught fire because Lautaro's confidence is clearly shot.

  • Cristian Romero Argentina

    Argentina Ratings: Defence

    Emiliano Martinez (8/10):

    Annoyed the Aussies with his time-wasting before then breaking their hearts with a crucial stop from Garang Kuol right at the death.

    Nahuel Molina (6/10):

    Nowhere near as effective as he was against Poland. Replaced by Montiel midway through the second half.

    Nicolas Otamendi (8/10):

    Another fine performance from Argentina's best defender at this tournament. Can even claim an assist, even if he might not have known that much about it.

    Cristian Romero (7/10):

    A solid showing from the Spurs man, who looks to have recovered from his shocking start to the World Cup.

    Marcos Acuna (7/10):

    The better of the two starting full-backs, getting forward when he could and using the ball well.

  • Rodrigo De Paul Argentina

    Midfield

    Rodrigo De Paul (7/10):

    Never stopped running or harrying Australia players. Got his reward when his pressure led to Alvarez's goal.

    Enzo Fernandez (8/10):

    Seriously unlucky to see Goodwin's shot deflect off him and into the net. He was immense again, though. No player on the pitch had more touches or played more passes.

    Alexis Mac Allister (6/10):
    Failed to replicate his heroics against Poland and was withdrawn late on.

  • Lionel Messi Julian Alvarez Argentina

    Attack

    Lionel Messi (9/10):

    Just sensational. Insane that he's still dominating games at this level at 35 years of age. His third goal of this tournament was such a slick finish and he's now level with Kylian Mbappe & Co. in the race for the Golden Boot.

    Julian Alvarez (8/10):

    A star has been well and truly born. On top of his neat finish, he impressed with his runs and versatility, constantly changing positions with Messi.

    Papu Gomez (5/10):

    A tough night for the veteran playmaker, who was forced off early in the second half, after a poor opening 45 minutes.

  • Lisandro Martinez Argentina

    Subs & Manager

    Lisandro Martinez (8/10):

    Brought on for Papu Gomez just after the break and slotted seamlessly into a back three alongside Otamendi and Romero, making a massive late block to deny Behich a certain equaliser.

    Lautaro Martinez (4/10):

    Came on for Alvarez with just over 19 minutes to go and squandered two glorious opportunities to put the game to bed.

    Nico Tagliafico (6/10):

    Introduced alongside Lautaro and replaced Acuna at left-wing-back.

    Gonzalo Montiel (N/A):

    Replaced Molina for the last 10 minutes of normal time.

    Exequiel Palacios (N/A):

    Subbed in for Mac Allister late on.

    Lionel Scaloni (7/10):

    The decision to replace the injured Angel Di Maria with Papu didn't pay off, but Lisandro Martinez certainly justified his entry. Job done and onto the quarter-finals Argentina go.