Messi: Relief, not celebration, after 1,000th game

    • Joined ESPN in 2011
    • Covered two Olympics, a pair of Rugby World Cups and two British & Irish Lions tours
    • Previously rugby editor, and became senior writer in 2018

AL RAYYAN, Qatar — Lionel Messi says he will not celebrate his personal milestone of reaching 1,000 professional matches after helping Argentina to a 2-1 victory over Australia in the World Cup round of 16, but instead admits his overriding emotion was relief at having come through a physical test just 48 hours after their last group stage match.

Messi, 35, scored Argentina’s first against the Socceroos with a wonderfully worked goal in the first half. Julian Alvarez then doubled the lead in the second half, but Argentina were made to hold on in the final throes of the match as Australia scored and threatened an equaliser late on.

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The match came just two days after they beat Poland in their final match of the group stage to secure their spot in the knockouts.

Messi was again in inspired form and was named Player of the Match. But despite reaching yet another career milestone and surpassing Diego Maradona’s mark of eight World Cup goals, Messi is not recognising this personal achievement.

Instead, he is just delighted at having come through a physical test so soon after their previous match.

“I am very happy for taking another step forward, achieving another objective,” Messi said postmatch.

“It was a very strong and difficult match — we knew it was going to be this way. We didn’t have much time to rest up and we were concerned as we knew it was going to be a physical match and they were very strong.”

When asked on Argentine TV whether he was going to celebrate his 1,000th match, Messi answered: “No, truly no. This was a tough game, tough game, we didn’t have much rest, we had not really recovered well. It was a very physical game as well.

“When we found out we had to play again in three days, we said it was crazy and not enough rest, but at the same time we wanted to be here for what it feels like and for what this represents and for our fans.”

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Australia coach Graham Arnold said his players did well to contain Messi, but in the end, his class shone through.

“He’s incredible,” Arnold said. “One of the greatest ever. We really worked hard not to be in awe of him, because of the great player he is. But wow, he’s remarkable.

“I had the privilege of playing against Diego Maradona, and now coaching against Messi — they’re both wonderful players and Argentina should be so proud and happy to have players of that calibre.”

Attention for Argentina now shifts to their World Cup quarterfinal against the Netherlands on Dec. 9.

“Today we saw their match [against the United States],” Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni said.

“Probably they don’t play as beautifully as previous Dutch teams — but they have strong points, and weaknesses we will try to use. It will be a beautiful game with two historic national teams. We hope we’ll qualify.”

Argentina will keep a close eye on the fitness of several of their key players in the run-up to facing the Dutch. Papu Gomez picked up an ankle injury against Australia, but they are confident of having Angel di Maria fit again as he recovers from a quad injury.

“Hopefully Di Maria will be able to play, he wasn’t fit today,” Scaloni said. “It’s always tempting to bring him on when he’s on the bench, but I don’t think we’d have helped anyone by bringing him on. We hope he continues evolving and makes it to the next match.”

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