One Year On | FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022: Argentina v Australia
Socceroos take it to Argentina in Round of 16 defeat
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— Subway Socceroos (@Socceroos) December 3, 2022
The biggest game of their lives
The Socceroos had exceeded expectations by progressing through the group stages at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Their reward, one of the tournament favourites in Argentina.
For the squad, they had to refocus after the post-group games celebrations and get ready for the mammoth task ahead.
Jackson Irvine said: “We’d beaten Denmark, we had the high of celebrating in the dressing room, and then you have the weird feeling of coming back to the compound and sitting at dinner all together watching the group games from the group that we were going to cross paths with.
“It wasn't a lot being said at the table, we were all just kind of watching paying attention and you just saw the glances kind of start to look around the table like, yeah, ‘that's how it's going to be, that’s how it’s going to go, Argentina’.
And Craig Goodwin added: “We knew that they were an exceptional team and obviously have probably one of the, if not the greatest player of all time with Lionel Messi.
“But knew it would be a very difficult game, but like any other game, we went in with confidence.”
That is a notion that Head Coach Graham Arnold had instilled in the group leading up to and during the tournament. Every game Australia played with confidence and belief.
No one outside the camp expected Australia to beat Argentina but that just drove the Socceroos as Harry Souttar explained.
“It was a case of what an opportunity we've got here because no one expected us to do anything in the group stage, certainly no one's going to expect us to do anything against Argentina,” he said.
“We did the best thing that we could do, which was approach it like any other game. We knew the football romantics around the world of Messi and Argentina, and how the eyes of the world were going to be on us in that way. But we just focused on us.”
Of course, it would be impossible to look back on the game and not mention the five-time Ballon D’or winner.
“It was the ‘Messi experience’ - there’s not many people that walk into any room and it's just theirs,” Irvine said.
“It's just a totally a bizarre experience. It's like having an otherworldly figure in the room.”
The time had come then for what was the biggest game perhaps in the history of Australian football. December 3rd, 2022, at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, just over 45,000 fans in attendance.
The crowd, as you might expect was a sea of light blue as Argentina fans made it feel like a home crowd for Messi and his side.
Mitch Duke said: “The Argentinian fans were insane, just their reaction to how they support Messi. They were praising him as a god.”
For the first half hour in the match, Australia more than matched their Argentine opponents but there were chances for both sides.
Souttar felt like Australia were perhaps the better side early on. He said: “I can't fault anyone I thought that game we started really well again for 25 minutes, thought we were the better side and created a few half chances.”
However, in the 35th minute the magician Messi pulled off another trick after he was played the ball by Nicolas Otamendi before finishing in the bottom corner to make it 1-0.
That was the only score in a very even first half as Australia had truly been in the game, and Arnold’s message at half time was just that.
“We were always in the game,” Souttar said. “I think that was a message at halftime it was stay in the game, you're always going to get a chance, you're always going to get an opportunity.”
In the second period, the game started to open up more as the Socceroos were pushing higher up the pitch in search of an equaliser.
It took a turn for the worst though in the 57th minute when Manchester City striker Julian Alvarez pounced on a heavy touch from Mathew Ryan to tap home into an empty net.
Socceroos fight back
At 2-0 down, Australia had to go for it and Arnold very quickly made the attacking substitutions of Craig Goodwin and Ajdin Hrustic on for Riley McGree and Keanu Baccus.
Goodwin said he was sent on with the message to push the team higher.
“Coming off the bench, you have to change your mindset to be able to adapt to what the game requires,” he said.
“Coming on 2-0 down it was trying to make a difference trying to provide something and I think the last 20 minutes, we had to throw numbers forward.”
More changes followed for Australia in the 71st minute as Garang Kuol, Fran Karacic and Jamie McLaren entered the fray replacing Milos Degenek, Mitchell Duke and Matthew Leckie
Those changes came with a change of shape which saw six foot six Souttar play the rest of the game up front.
The shift in tactic worked as well as in the 77th minute Australia had a goal back when Goodwin saw his shot deflected in by Enzo Fernandez to make it 2-1.
From there the Socceroos had even more confidence and took it to Argentina with chance after chance.
Aziz Behich very nearly scored the goal of the tournament in the 81st minute as he dribbled past four defenders on a mazy run into the box, but his shot was blocked by Lisandro Martinez.
The game was end-to-end at this point and Argentina would have had a third or maybe even a fourth goal if it weren’t for Ryan in net making two tremendous saves.
Then, in the 97th minute, the ball fell to Kuol at the back post, he turned his marker on the spot and unleashed with his right foot, but Emiliano Martinez was there to save. The goalkeeper's teammates collapsed around him as he clung to the ball, they knew just how close that moment was.
The whistle sounded just moments later, and Argentina had won, but they had to fight for it, and you could see in how they celebrated the victory that they knew Australia took it all the way.
Heads held high
It of course, was a disappointing defeat for Australia, but to be knocked out in those circumstances by the eventual World Cup winners, they could hold their heads high.
Irvine said: “We left that pitch with no regrets, we left it all out there, we gave it absolutely everything.
“It took a moment of world class quality from their goalkeeper to not send it to extra time.”
And Goodwin added: “Obviously after the game we were really disappointed with the outcome, but I think we showed on the world stage that we can match it with the very best.
“I think it was a great stage for a number of players in the squad and everyone there who took part to show that we have world class quality and can match it with the best teams in the world.”
The story of Australia 1-2 Argentina | FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ Round of 16
In the changing rooms after the match, Arnold said to the players to be proud of their achievements.
Cameron Devlin said: “Obviously there's so much disappointment and you're shattered, Arnie spoke to us all and just wanted to thank all the boys for all their efforts.
For anyone who may be wondering, Devlin also got the prize of swapping shirts with Messi.
“It wasn't planned or anything,” he said. “It was just in the moment or just ask him because you know, you don't know how often you're going to get a chance to come up against him.”
But that was it for the Socceroos at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. A historic tournament for that squad of players and staff, and a tournament that provided plenty of amazing memories within Australian football.