Superstar Lionel Messi will be looking to steer Argentina passed the round of 16 knockout stages as they face Australia tonight at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. Argentina will be looking to avoid a shock defeat in the manner in which they suffered at the hands of Saudi Arabia in their opening game of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup. Argentina had to work their way into the competition's last 16 with a hard-fought victory against Mexico followed by crashing Poland in the last match of their group stage campaign. The South American champions missed a penalty kick that would have given talisman Lionel Messi a chance to open the score sheet on the Wednesday match against Poland, but they were finally rewarded for their 90-minute dominance by moving ahead of their European rivals at the top of the group rankings.
Argentina, the two-time world champions remain to be among the favorites to carry the FIFA World Cup trophy come the 18th of December in the final at the Lusail Stadium. While conditions will be the same for both his team and their next opponents, Lionel Scaloni has bemoaned the fact they will return to action after just over two days rest - particularly having followed such an emotionally draining route to the top of Group C. However, he knows that no excuses will be accepted by an expectant public back home in Argentina. To combat concerns about fatigue, the Copa America-winning coach can call upon several talented players to have emerged from the fringes of his squad, such as Mac Allister, Alvarez, and Benfica's Enzo Fernandez, though of course Messi still shoulders much of the creative burden. As Argentina looks to secure a quarterfinal match against either the Netherlands or the United States, its irreplaceable playmaker will surely be integral once again.
Given the football gap between Argentina and Australia, it comes as no surprise that Australia have lost each of their last four meetings with Argentina. Graham Arnold's side will be playing in the knockout round for the first time since the fabled golden generation of the Germany 2006 World Cup. Australia, however, defied all odds to finish second in their group behind France who only defeated them on goal difference. Realism is never far away from a pragmatic Australian side, largely made up of players on the fringe of things at their European clubs, so for all the euphoria, their historic victory unleashed, they will be acutely aware of the step-up in class that awaits today in the form of Argentina.
Arnold's well-trained squad will be underdogs to defeat Argentina and go to the final eight for the first time in tournament history after being easily defeated by a fluent French team, who beat them 4-1. If they could somehow do so, jubilant scenes of fans celebrating on the streets of Melbourne in the early hours of Thursday morning would surely be matched - even surpassed - in Sydney, Adelaide, and beyond. However, that is highly unlikely to happen.
Argentina are expected to win this clash with a 2 goals margin.
(Image: Khel now)