Messi’s Score Sets Tone for Argentina in World Cup Win

“Impressive,” forward Julián Álvarez said in Spanish of Messi. “Not just the goal but his performance during the entire game and the last minutes were important, too. It doesn’t surprise us. We know Leo and we’ll always do our best to support him.”

Even when Messi didn’t score — his scampering run through the Australian defense in the 65th minute ended in a corner kick, and more cheers — fans in the stands bowed to him. After the game, Messi commended the large number of Argentine fans who had traveled to Qatar and loudly supported him and the team.

“There is this bond that we have, this union that we have, that is beautiful,” he said, adding later, “It’s unbelievable how they live every single match, their passion, their energy and their joy. We’re very thankful.”

But if Argentina is to win the World Cup and bring those fans further delight, Messi cannot do it all alone. And in the 57th minute, he got a taste of the kind of help he will need. When Australia goalkeeper Mathew Ryan paused too long in clearing a ball in front of his goal while under pressure from two Argentine players, Álvarez stabbed the loose ball free, turned and slotted it into the empty net.

The second goal proved critical: In the 77th minute, Australia forward Craig Goodwin fired a left-footed shot from outside the box that deflected off midfielder Enzo Fernández and into the goal.

Desperate to tie the game and advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in its history, Australia turned up its attack. In the 81st minute, Aziz Behich wove through Argentina’s players but had his close-range shot blocked. In injury time, Australian forward Garang Kuol freed himself for an open shot, only to have it saved by Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez. His relieved teammates piled on top of him to celebrate, and up the field Messi was relieved.

“That’s the World Cup for you,” he said. “These matches are always difficult, but we got the win.” And with it, Argentina and Messi moved one step closer toward their goal.