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Argentina’s Lionel Messi: ‘Last-16 tie with Australia will be very difficult’

Argentina’s Lionel Messi: ‘Last-16 tie with Australia will be very difficult’

Lionel Messi believes Australia will be “very difficult” opponents for Argentina in the last 16 of the 2022 World Cup.

The two-time world champions have leapfrogged Poland to the top of Group C after securing a 2-0 victory over their European counterparts at Stadium 974 on Wednesday evening.

Messi saw a first-half penalty saved by the strong left palm of Wojciech Szczesny, but Argentina made the breakthrough less than a minute into the second half when Nahuel Molina cut the ball back to Alexis Mac Allister to net his first international goal.

La Albiceleste then doubled their advantage in the 67th minute courtesy of an emphatic finish from Julian Alvarez, and Lionel Scaloni‘s side ultimately eased their way past a tepid Polish outfit.

For the 11th time in the last 12 World Cup finals, Argentina have progressed to the knockout rounds of the competition, and they will now prepare for Saturday’s last-16 tie against Australia, who finished second in Group D behind current world champions France.

Australia eventually finished behind Les Bleus only on goal difference, with Graham Arnold‘s men winning two of their three group matches against Tunisia and Denmark – beating the latter 1-0 on Wednesday.

Argentina's Lionel Messi in action with Poland's Matty Cash at the World Cup on November 30, 2022© Reuters

The only Group D match Australia failed to win was indeed against France, who ran out 4-1 winners in their opening fixture in Qatar, but Messi believes Argentina must be on top of their game if they wish to prevail against the Socceroos this weekend.

“The match against Australia is going to be very difficult,” Messi told reporters via @Argentina. “Anyone can beat anyone, everything is very even. We have to prepare the game in the best way as we always do.

“We must be calm and go game by game. Now another World Cup begins and hopefully we can continue to maintain what we did today.”

On Argentina’s win over Poland, Messi added: “I’m angry for having missed the penalty, but the team came out stronger after that mistake of mine. We knew that once the first goal went in, it would change the game.

“The previous game (a 2-0 win over Mexico) gave us a lot of peace of mind and we went out onto the pitch thinking we had to win.”

Argentina have won each of their last four international meetings against Australia, but the Socceroos secured a shock 2-0 triumph at the Tokyo Olympics in July last year.

Brighton & Hove Albion’s Mac Allister played for Argentina in that defeat, and he is expecting another challenging contest against the Oceania-based nation at this year’s World Cup.

Argentina's Alexis Mac Allister celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates on November 30, 2022© Reuters

Speaking to BBC Sport after the win over Poland, Mac Allister said: “We think that they are a good team. I played against them at the (2020) Olympics games, we lost so we know how difficult they are.

“Of course [they are] not the same team, we are not the same team, but they are a very good team and will be a tough side [to face].”

Mac Allister – who was named Man of the Match in the win over Poland – believes Argentina have reacted well following their shock opening group-stage loss to Saudi Arabia, and their most recent victory has given them confidence for the knockout rounds.

“I’m happy because it was a convincing performance. We looked for the goal at all times,” the midfielder told @Argentina. “I think we went back to being the team we used to be. We handled the ball more, we were calm and we didn’t despair. We played a great game”.

“The first game was a blow that caught us in time. We began to trust the group a little more. We went back to being the same team we used to be. We didn’t despair. I think today was a great game for the team and that gives us a lot of confidence for what’s to come.”

Should Argentina progress past Australia, they will face the winners of the last-16 clash between Netherlands and USA in the quarter-finals.

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