Lionel Messi has described Argentina’s relationship with their fans as “something wonderful” after they beat Australia 2-1 to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
Messi marked his 1,000th first-team appearance with the opener and Julian Alvarez put them in front by making it 2-0 early in the second half.
Craig Goodwin’s deflected shot gave Australia a lifeline but Argentina held their own in front of their army of supporters, who far outnumbered the Australian fans and created an electric atmosphere in the stadium Ahmad bin Ali.
Messi, whose team will now face the Netherlands in Friday’s round of 16, said: “These are incredible feelings. I am really happy to share this beautiful moment, these happy moments with all of them.
“The effort they are making to be here with us in every single game. I know how much fun they have in Argentina.
“All of Argentina would like to be here, but it’s not possible. I think there’s this bond that we have, this togetherness, which is something wonderful.
“It’s amazing what they convey, the passion, their energy, their joy and we are very grateful. It’s incredible.”
Argentina controlled much of the game but were thankful for a superb last-gasp tackle from defender Lisandro Martinez who pinned down Australia’s Aziz Behich.
They also owed the win to a crucial save from Emiliano Martinez in the dying moments of stoppage time to avoid a shot from young Australian substitute Garang Kuol.
Messi added: “I am very happy to have taken another step forward, achieving another goal. It was a very difficult match, we knew it would go like this.
“We knew it was going to be a very physical match and they were very strong.
“We had a setback with their goal, but this is the World Cup for you. The matches are always difficult and the important thing is to win.”
Australia had qualified for the round of 16 after beating both Tunisia and Denmark in their group following their opening defeat to France.
Manager Graham Arnold has spoken of his pride in his players’ achievements but could not hide his disappointment at the Socceroos’ exit.
Arnold said: “I just told the boys that I couldn’t be more proud of them for their commitment, all they have given for me and for the nation.
“I really hope Australia is very proud of these players. They’ve done a fantastic job.
“I just thank them for all the effort they put into the whole campaign and my staff.
“It’s about making the nation proud and I’m pretty sure we’ve done that.”
Arnold described Messi as “extraordinary” and “one of the greatest ever” and urged the Australian government to support his country’s football team by building a center of excellence.
But the 59-year-old said it wasn’t enough for him to reach the knockout stages.
He added: “It’s probably me, the way I am. Even though we were successful, I feel like we failed because I wanted to win so badly for the country and for the game in Australia.
“Reaching the round of 16 wasn’t enough for me, I wanted more. But that’s just me. Lots of other people might be happy with it, but I’m like that.”