Lionel Messi plays the 1,000th game of his career tonight. He has scored 788 goals in that time, but none have been at the business end of a World Cup. It’s one of modern football’s odder stats that the Goat brothers, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, have never scored in a World Cup knockout game. This will be Messi’s ninth attempt.
Both managers make one change. Papu Gomez replaces Angel Di Maria, who was a doubt because of a thigh injury and is only on the Argentina bench. And St Mirren’s Keanu Baccus make his full international debut for Australia, replacing Craig Goodwin. That means a paradoxically defensive switch from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3.
Argentina (possible 4-3-3) E Martinez; Molina, Romero, Otamendi, Acuna; De Paul, Fernandez, Mac Allister; Messi, Alvarez, Gomez.
Substitutes: Armani, Foyth, Tagliafico, Montiel, Paredes, Pezzella, Di Maria, Rulli, Palacios, Correa, Almada, Rodriguez, Dybala, Lautaro Martinez, Lisandro Martinez.
Australia (possible 4-3-3) Ryan; Degenek, Souttar, Rowles, Behich; Baccus, Mooy, Irvine; Leckie, Duke, McGree.
Substitutes: Atkinson, Karacic, Tilio, Wright, Maclaren, Hrustic, Mabil, Redmayne, Devlin, Vukovic, Deng, Kuol, King, Cummings.
Referee Szymon Marciniak (Poland)
The team news should arrive just over an hour before kick-off. Both teams were highly impressive in beating Poland and Denmark, but the short turnaround – those games were on Wednesday – means there may be one or two changes.
Hello and welcome to the battle of the bouncebackables. Of the
16 15 (farewell, USA) teams left in the World Cup last-chance saloon, Argentina and Australia have been there the longest. They each lost their first game 12 days ago, Argentina earthquakingly, before recovering to win the last two and qualify fir the knockout stage with authority. Argentina topped their group and rediscovered their swagger against Poland; Australia put out a fancied Denmark team and only finished behind France on goal difference.
Both are aiming to make history – either in the next couple of weeks (Argentina) or the next few hours (Australia). Argentina want to win a third World Cup, and their first since a peedie Lionel Messi came into the world; Australia hope to become the first Socceroos men’s team to reach the quarter-finals of a World Cup.
Their only previous appearance in the last 16 was in 2006, when they missed a helluva chance to beat the eventual winners Italy. (I wonder what VAR would have made of Lucas Neill’s challenge on Fabio Grosso.)
Argentina’s team is likely to include players from Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, Juventus and Atletico Madrid. The Australia coach Graham Arnold is shopping at Columbus Crew, Stoke City, Adelaide United and Fagiano Okayama. On paper it’s a mismatch, but then so was Australia v Denmark. We’ve assumed many results in this tournament, only to end up agape at the glorious unpredictability of the World Cup.
The winners will play the Netherlands in the second quarter-final on Friday. Oh, and just one more thing. No. Social. Media.
Kick off 7pm GMT, 10pm in Al Rayyan, 4pm in Buenos Aires, 6am (Sunday) in Canberra.