Lionel Messi produced a moment of trademark quality to score the opener in a 2-1 win over Australia and send Argentina into the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup on Saturday.
Messi’s 789th goal in his 1,000th career appearance – but first in the knockout rounds of the World Cup – helped set up a last-eight clash with the unbeaten Netherlands on Friday.
Julian Alvarez scored the other in the 57th minute after some calamitous Australian defending, before Enzo Fernandez’s 77th-minute own goal set up an unexpectedly nervy finale.
Now 35, one of the best players of all time is seeking to win the tournament for the first time in what will surely be his final World Cup.
Messi’s classy first-half goal, bending the ball into the bottom corner, broke the resistance and ultimately the hearts of a gutsy Australian side that defied all expectations in Qatar and went down fighting.
Australia’s yellow-shirted fans were vastly outnumbered among the packed crowd at the 45,000-capacity Ahmad bin Ali Stadium and were drowned out by Argentina’s boisterous, bellowing and bouncing supporters.
Back in Australia, where fans had a sunrise start if they wanted to catch the game live on television, the Sydney Opera House was lit up in green and gold.