Argentina’s quest to take home the World Cup trophy for the third time continues on Saturday as they meet Australia in a seemingly routine last-16 tie at 7.00 pm.
Although a shock 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia in their curtain-raising Group C fixture threw a spanner in the works, La Albiceleste picked themselves up to finish top of the group.
After Lionel Messi inspired them to a 2-0 triumph over Mexico, Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez did the heavy lifting in an identical success against Poland in round three.
Having reached the World Cup knockout phase for the 13th time in their last 14 tournament appearances, Lionel Scaloni’s men will be looking to go one better than four years ago in Russia, where they bowed out at this stage.
While Australia would like to spoil Messi’s party and hinder his effort to a World Cup gold medal in what could be his last shot at doing so, they may be in over their heads.
No strangers to pulling off upsets, Graham Arnold’s men bounced back from a 4-1 defeat to France, recording back-to-back 1-0 wins over Tunisia and Denmark to advance into the World Cup knockout stage against the odds.
But despite toppling European Championship semi-finalists Denmark to a runner-up spot in a competitive Group D to qualify for the round of 16 for the first time since 2006, they should run out of luck come Saturday.
It’s been half a century since Argentina last failed to progress beyond the World Cup round of 16 in back-to-back tournaments, which could happen here following a loss to France in Russia.
Messi will be central to La Albiceleste’s bid to avoid that fate as he seeks his first-ever goal in the World Cup knockout stage, having registered all eight of his strikes at the tournament in the group phase.
While relying on the Paris Saint-Germain ace to work his magic in the front third, Scaloni can always fall back on his team’s stellar defending, which saw them allow a tournament-low 11 shots during the group stage.
Matthew Leckie’s stunning solo goal against Denmark fired Australia to their second consecutive World Cup victory, as many wins as in their first 17 games at the tournament (D4, L11).
Delivering action from the offset, the Socceroos have netted the opening goal in all three matches in Qatar, suggesting their reluctance to sit back and wait.
But that may be a better option for Arnold’s men, considering Australia have failed to win any of their four previous World Cup fixtures against South American nations (D1, L3).
Argentina vs Australia Head-to-Head
Argentina will meet Australia at the World Cup for the first time, but they have fond memories of their previous non-competitive encounters. The South Americans have brushed the Socceroos aside in five of their seven all-time duels (D1, L1).
However, the only time Australia came out victorious, current manager Arnold was part of the squad that thumped La Albiceleste 4-1 back in 1988.
Argentina vs Australia Potential Line-ups
Argentina (4-3-3): Emiliano Martinez; Nahuel Molina, Cristian Romero, Nicolas Otamendi, Marcos Acuna; Rodrigo De Paul, Enzo Fernandez, Alexis Mac Allister; Angel Di Maria, Lionel Messi, Julian Alvarez.
Australia (4-4-2): Matthew Ryan; Milos Degenek, Harry Souttar, Kye Rowles, Aziz Behich; Matthew Leckie, Jackson Irvine, Aaron Mooy, Craig Goodwin; Mitchell Duke, Riley McGree.
Argentina vs Australia Prediction
Australia’s run into the tournament’s round of 16 at the expense of Denmark is already a standout achievement, but this should be their maximum.
France exposed the Socceroos’ defensive woes on day one, and Argentina have the quality to exploit those problems a few times in this match.
Argentina 3-0 Australia
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