Winners, Losers From Argentina’s Round of 16 Win Over Australia originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
It wasn’t the prettiest, but Argentina are moving on in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
La Albiceleste took care of business against Australia on Saturday, winning 2-1 in their round of 16 contest in the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Qatar.
Lionel Messi opened the scoring for Argentina in the 35th minute while Julian Alvarez pounced on a goalkeeper error to make it 2-0 in the 57th. Australia got on the board in the 77th minute thanks to a wild own goal that deflected off Enzo Fernandez’s face, but it couldn’t find the equalizer in time and have been eliminated.
Next up for Argentina is a quarterfinal showdown against the Netherlands, which beat the United States 3-1 in its round of 16 matchup earlier on Saturday.
But before that contest takes place, let’s recap some winners and losers from Argentina’s win over Australia:
Winner: Lionel Messi
Well, you really can’t start with anyone else. Messi just keeps on lifting this Argentina squad when they need him the most.
This time, he scored La Albiceleste’s first goal of the game in the 35th minute with a clinical left-footed finish inside the box. It was also his first in any knockout stage game.
It marked Messi’s third goal of the tournament, and he is now tied for the top spot in the Golden Boot race in Qatar. This team will only go as far as Messi can take them, and the 35-year-old is showing he can shoulder the burden thus far.
Loser: Lautaro Martinez
It’s been a rough showing for El Toro in Qatar. The Inter Milan star came into the tournament as the team’s top No. 9 option with seven goals and three assists in 15 Serie A games this season, but he was dropped for the rising Julian Alvarez for the second straight game.
Martinez got his chance to kill off the game when he replaced Alvarez in the 71st minute, but he had a lackluster display in his short time on the pitch. He missed two big chances that generated 0.82 expected goals per Sofascore, and lost possession seven times.
He had two goals disallowed in Argentina’s opener against Saudi Arabia, and that seems to have hurt his confidence dramatically as he’s typically been a clinical finisher at the club and international level.
Winner: Julian Alvarez
On the flip side, Alvarez has provided Lionel Scaloni with another key piece alongside Messi. The Manchester City striker has been making waves in his debut campaign in England this season, and that unsurprisingly carried over to the international level.
He scored his second goal of the tournament when he pounced on Mathew Ryan’s poor attempt to clear the ball inside his own box, and that finish proved to be the difference in the 2-1 scoreline.
Messi usually gets consistent help from Angel Di Maria in these types of games, but with Di Maria sidelined due to injury, Alvarez stepped up and rose to the occasion. He’ll need to continue this form with the Netherlands’ back five being a tough team to crack.
Loser: Cinderella stories
Australia had very few expectations coming into Qatar after qualifying via a playoff win over Peru, but the Socceroos managed to break through in Group D with Denmark’s disappointing last-place finish and despite losing 4-1 to France in the opener.
But beating Argentina was always going to be a real David vs. Goliath outcome, though the Socceroos came close to tying the game in the end.
Their lone goal was a deflected own goal by Enzo Fernandez in the 77th minute, so Australia’s potential darkhorse story has wrapped up.
Winner: Lisandro Martinez
For some reason, Lisandro Martinez is not a regular starter for La Albiceleste. His lone start in Qatar came in the 2-0 win against Mexico in the second group stage game, but he’s since been replaced by Cristian Romero, who started in the Saudi Arabia game but was dropped in favor of Martinez.
Scaloni then made an in-game tactical switch when he brought on Martinez in the 50th minute and changed the team’s shape to a back three along with Romero and Nicolas Otamendi. It was a bit risky, but Martinez repaid Scaloni’s faith yet again when he delivered a crucial block in the 81st minute when Aziz Behich nearly tied the game at 2-2.
If Scaloni wants his defense to be more sturdy against better attacking teams, he needs to have Martinez starting from the get-go. His 5-foot-9 frame can be an issue if playing as a center back, but he has to find a way to get him more minutes as the stakes increase.