Lionel Messi said the World Cup will only get more difficult from now after Argentina survived a “complicated” finish to their match against Australia to book a place in the quarter-finals.
The two-time world champions prevailed 2-1 at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on Saturday night, but had to withstand a few nervy moments towards the end as poor finishing from their side and then some sturdy defending saw off Australia.
Argentina had been 2-0 up on the night, with Messi scoring in his 1000th career match and Julian Alvarez doubling the advantage to seemingly send the team through.
However, Craig Goodwin’s deflected shot gave Australia a lifeline, and it needed a last-gasp save from Emiliano Martinez to prevent the match from going into extra-time.
Argentina now take on the Netherlands, three-time runners-up, on Friday for a place in the semi-finals. The Dutch defeated USA 3-1 earlier on Saturday.
Speaking immediately after Australia, and having picked up another man-of-the-match award, Messi said: "Things got complicated in the end with their goal, but it's a World Cup and it's never easy.
"Now we have a really tough clash with Holland, who play very well. They have great players and a great coach. It's going to be hard fought.
“If a World Cup has been tough from the start, it gets even tougher at this stage."
Argentina, the South American champions, were superior for much of the match against Australia in Al Rayyan, but were pegged back with 13 minutes of normal time remaining.
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From there, Lionel Scaloni's side missed a number of chances, chiefly through substitute Lautaro Martinez, while namesake Lisandro Martinez was forced into making a last-ditch challenge after a superb solo run by Aziz Behich.
It was then left to Emiliano Martinez, the Argentine goalkeeper, to keep out 18-year-old substitute Garang Kuol deep into injury time.
“I’m very happy for taking another step forward, achieving another objective,” Messi said. “It was a very difficult match; we knew it was going to be this way.
“We knew it was going to be a very physical match and they were very strong. Matches are always difficult and what’s important is that you win.”
Argentina manager Scaloni paid tribute to his players, who have reeled off three successive wins in Qatar after their shock opening defeat by Saudi Arabia.
"We are satisfied,” Scaloni said. “Today's match was very difficult - they put a suffocating pressure on us. We shouldn't have suffered in the final minutes because we had chances to go further ahead.
"But my players were born to play in these sorts of games."
On the Netherlands test, in a rerun of the 1978 World Cup final that Argentina won, Scaloni said: "It's going to be a very beautiful game, with two historic teams. Sadly one team has to lose. And we hope it's us who go through.”