The World Cup has not been all smooth sailing for Lionel Messi and Argentina so far, but they are favorites ahead of their round of 16 clash with Australia.
The Socceroos made a surprise group stage, beating Tunisia and Denmark 1-0 to advance to the knockout round in Qatar.
Meanwhile, Argentina recovered from their first-match defeat against Saudi Arabia with a 2-0 win over Mexico and Poland.
The tight schedule means teams have just two days to prepare for Saturday’s match at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan.
Despite saving a penalty against Poland, Messi was crucial in Argentina’s campaign, scoring twice – including a superb one against Mexico – and sending one away assists.
Beat Australia — Argentina have beaten Australia in their previous two matches — while the Netherlands wait in the quarter-finals.
However, it is not ruled out that there will be a big surprise: There have been several upsets at this World Cup, as Saudi Arabia demonstrated in the aforementioned win over Argentina. So manager Lionel Scaloni takes everything for granted.
“Australia are a good team,” he told reporters on Friday. “This is football, you have to put aside theoretical favoritism and play.
Can Australia’s sterling defense continue? The challenge of trying to keep a third consecutive clean sheet in the Championship will be a tall order with Messi on the pitch.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a difficult game against possibly the best player ever,” defender Milos Degenek said on Friday. “Other than that, it’s 11 against 11. There are not 11 Messis, only one. We know they have a squad full of stars.”