It just had to be him.
On his 1 000th appearance in professional football and his 100th game as Argentina captain, Lionel Messi stepped up again to keep his country’s World Cup dream alive.
In his fifth World Cup, the ‘magician’ finally scored his first ever World Cup knockout goal as Argentina took another step to ending their 36-year wait for World Cup glory with a 2-1 second-round win against Australia.
After a nervy opening half-hour, Messi intervened to open the scoring and from there it was mostly plain sailing at an absolutely bouncing Ahmad bin Ali Stadium – until a late goal from the gallant Australians gave Argentina one almighty scare.
The Argentines now face a mouth-watering quarter-final against the Dutch with the hopes of a nation once again inevitably resting on their number 10, who is now the tournament’s joint-top scorer with three goals.
Messi, who scored his 789th career goal, said: “I am happy for taking another step forward, achieving another objective. It was a very strong and difficult match.”
Netherlands 3, USA 1
The Netherlands survived a late scare against the United States to move into the Fifa World Cup quarter-finals with a ruthless display of finishing.
The US had the game’s biggest early chance when Christian Pulisic was denied by the legs of Dutch goalkeeper Andries Noppert and the failure to take that opportunity proved highly expensive.
Louis van Gaal’s side responded in the finest Dutch traditions in the 10th minute when Memphis Depay crowned a magnificent 21-pass move by turning in Denzel Dumfries’ cross.
The US battled hard but lacked a cutting edge and were punished in similar fashion with the final kick of the first half when Daley Blind arrived with perfect timing on the end of another Dumfries cut back.
The Dutch were given anxious moments when the US pulled a goal back in the 76th minute as Haji Wright’s freak deflection from Pulisic’s cross looped in at the far post.
But they restored their two-goal lead five minutes later when creator Dumfries turned scorer, side-footing in a volley at the far post from Blind’s cross. (BBC)