In a classic video of Argentine football, presenter and broadcaster Alejandro Fantino gets up from his chair in despair before the national team’s match against Uruguay, for the 2011 Copa América, and, screaming, begs repeatedly:
“Densela to Messi!”
It sounded like an order in Spanish: give the ball to Messi!
Against Australia, for 35 minutes, Argentina did not find a way to break through Australia’s block at the Al Rayyan Stadium, in Doha, this Saturday (3), for the round of 16 of the World Cup. With two lines of four and cutting all the opponent’s passes, the Oceania team closed and bet on a set piece or counterattack.
The strategy paid off in the final round of the group stage, against Denmark. It might work again.
When Argentina gave the ball to Messi, everything was resolved. As had already happened against Mexico, the number 10 took his team out of the struggle and scored the goal that paved the way for the 2-1 victory that put Argentina in the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
Next Friday (9), the rival will be the Netherlands for a place in the semifinal. It’s a repeat of the most memorable clash of Messi’s tournament career for his country. In 2014, he was already the captain in the victory on penalties that took him to the Cup final.
Australia fell, but equaled the best result in its history in the tournament, the Round of 16 in 2006, in Germany.
The goal shot was rehearsed at the training ground at Qatar University. MacAllister gives the pass to someone to make the wall for the number 10 to finish. In this case, it was Otamendi.
Messi sent the ball through a wall of four Australians in front of him. It was the first moment he had freedom near the opposing area. Once again in Qatar, he was like a master key to open a lock.
Messi scored in what was the 1,000th game of his career. A historic mark that he already treated, after the triumph against the Poles, in the same way as other records he obtained: without giving it that much importance. What matters, in fact, is to be champion in your last Cup.
Having your best player inspired and capable of decisive plays compensates for the problems of an Argentina that overcame, with this Saturday’s victory, which made Jorge Sampaoli’s team in 2018, in Russia, eliminated in the round of 16 by France.
The biggest defect of the current selection is not having a strong game on the wing.
A striker like Ángel Correa could add more depth, something Di María can do on his good days. But the full-backs don’t provide the attacking quality one might expect. Marcos Acuña is an improvised midfielder on the left wing. Because of simultaneous support from Acuña and Molina, coach Lionel Scaloni took off attacking midfielder Papu Gómez at halftime for defender Lisandro Martínez.
Injured, Di María stayed on the bench. It was a change in keeping with the manager’s view that he is not locked into any formation or player other than Lionel.
Australia, disarmed by Messi’s genius, found itself in a dilemma: keep the scheme closed and continue waiting for the fortuitous move that would take the game to overtime or go out to attack?
It looked like it was all over in the 11th minute when goalkeeper Mat Ryan, hampered by pressure from Rodrigo De Paul, gave the ball away to Julian Álvarez to score for the second straight game. He had already scored the second against Poland.
To have any chance in the match, Australia needed a stroke of luck, the action of chance. This happened in the 31st minute, when Goodwin’s shot deflected off Enzo Fernández to reduce Argentina’s advantage.
The match gained a level of emotion that had not been seen before and full-back Behich, in a sprint by Lionel Messi, would have drawn even if it had not been for Lisandro Martínez’s saving tackle.
The more the tension increased, the more the crowd, which filled the Al Rayyan stadium, sang. The more Messi signaled, the more Rodrigo De Paul ran.
Lionel Scaloni had already predicted that the match would be difficult because Australia was an opponent aware of what they wanted. This proved true. And it worked in several moments or at least until they gave the ball to Messi, who still almost brought the stadium down with another great goal in stoppage time before Dibu Martínez made a saving save practically in the last shot of the match.