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Argentina vs Australia and more 2022 World Cup news

The World Cup has hardly been straightforward for Lionel Messi and Argentina thus far, but they are strong favorites ahead of their Round of 16 game against Australia.

The Socceroos were a surprise package in the group stages, qualifying for the knockout rounds in Qatar courtesy of 1-0 victories against Tunisia and Denmark.

Argentina, meanwhile, bounced back from a shock opening defeat against Saudi Arabia with 2-0 wins against Mexico and Poland.

A demanding schedule means the teams have had just two days to prepare for Saturday’s game at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan.

Despite having a penalty saved against Poland, Messi has played a crucial role in Argentina’s tournament, scoring twice – including a superb strike against Mexico – and providing one assist.

Defeat Australia – which Argentina has done in all but two of the sides’ previous meetings – and the Netherlands await in the quarterfinals.

Don’t rule out a big surprise, though: This World Cup has already thrown up several upsets, as Saudi Arabia demonstrated in its aforementioned stunner against Argentina. As a result, manager Lionel Scaloni is taking nothing for granted.

“Australia is a good team,” he told reporters on Friday. “This is football, you have to leave theoretical favoritism to the side and play.

Can Australia’s sterling defense continue? The challenge of trying to keep a third consecutive clean sheet at the tournament will be a tall order with Messi on the pitch.

“It’s going to be a difficult game, obviously, playing against probably the best footballer ever to grace the game,” defender Milos Degenek said on Friday. “Apart from that, it’s 11 against 11. There are not 11 Messis, there’s one. We know their squad is full of stars.”

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