By Jullian Sardana (@JullianSardana)
After a hard-fought performance against Denmark, Australia have qualified for the Round of 16 for the first time in 16 years. They will face Argentina on Sunday morning at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in a massive clash that the whole country will be watching.
Both the Socceroos and Argentina have had similar routes to qualifying for the Round of 16, both losing their opening games and winning their following two. Mathew Leckie’s goal in the 60th minute helped the Aussies book their ticket into the Round of 16, whereas goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez against Poland secured Argentina’s first place finish in Group C.
Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni has used two formations in this World Cup, playing a 4-4-2 against Saudi Arabia and Mexico, then switching to a 4-3-3 in their most recent match against Poland. Argentina’s World Cup squad is composed of many talented and gifted attackers such as Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez, Angel Di Maria and much more. In previous major tournaments, Argentina’s defence has been asked a lot of questions on their reliability. However, in recent times their defence have improved and made the team much better than they were. Prior to the World Cup, Argentina had a 36-game undefeated streak where it was broken after their 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia.
Coming into this World Cup, Argentina are one of the favourites to win the whole tournament and with this World Cup being Messi’s last, they’ll be hoping to win it for him.
Players to keep an eye on:
Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain, Forward)
One of the best to ever set foot on a football pitch, the Argentinian magician is playing in his last ever World Cup. Messi has three goal contributions in this World Cup, scoring two goals and having an assist to his name. While many would love to see a Socceroos upset against Argentina, others may have a soft spot, and will hope that he lifts up the trophy he just missed out back in 2014.
Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa, Goalkeeper)
After Argentina’s shocking loss in their World Cup opener against Saudi Arabia, the former Arsenal goalkeeper has not looked back since and has came away with two clean sheets in their following two games against Mexico and Poland. Since Martinez was integrated into the Argentina setup, he has been a mainstay in between the sticks, as well as helping Lionel Messi win his first major international trophy, the Copa America. Scaloni will hope Martinez’s recent form in goals will help Argentina progress to the next round.
Rodrigo De Paul (Atletico Madrid, Midfielder)
De Paul is one of five players to play in all three of Argentina’s group stage games. The Atletico Madrid midfielder may not be one of those players who provides all the goals and assists, but what he provides to his team is a lot of hard work across the pitch. Across all three games, De Paul is leading his fellow compatriots in total distance ran with 32.37 km. He’s also leading with the most sprints with 169 and most defensive pressures applied with 76.
How will Argentina line up?
Scaloni has used a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3 throughout the group stage and could use either formation against the Socceroos. The key thing to consider is the battle in the midfield, would Scaloni like to have more numbers in the midifeld or more numbers up higher up the pitch where the two 8’s in the 4-3-3 to push up with the forward line?
Probable Lineup (4-3-3):
Martinez; Montiel, Romero, Otamendi, Acuna; De Paul, Fernandez, Mac Allister; Di Maria, Martinez, Messi.
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images