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Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates at the full time whistle after beating Australia 2-1 in the last 16 clash of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: There was never going to be anything else other than a goal from Lionel Messi in his 1,000th match. The Argentina captain struck goal number 789 of his glittering career against Australia to keep his country’s World Cup dream alive.

This is the little magicians fifth World Cup and he finally scored his first ever knockout goal. He caressed a nerveless finish into the far corner to set Argentina on their way. They won 2-1 and took another step to end their 36-year wait to lift the FIFA World Cup trophy.

Plain sailing

It was a nervy first 30 minutes at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium but when Messi opened the scoring it was plain sailing for Argentina from there. They doubled their lead in the second half after a howler from Aussie keeper Mat Ryan to present Julian Alvarez with an empty net. A late goal from the Socceroos made it a nervous finish but Argentina held on and now face a mouth-watering quarter-final against the Netherlands.

They will again pin their hopes on their iconic number 10 who now becomes the joint-top scorer at the World Cup with three goals. Messi is now 35 and he doesn’t nearly do as much on the ball as he once used to. Those meandering runs are a rare sight these days but he rolled back the years against the Aussies and was up to his old tricks, beating three or four men, much to the delight of the Albiceleste faithful who were bouncing in the stands. It was vintage Messi. Sharp intakes of breath echoed around the stadium every time the little left-footer got his famous boot on the ball. He was embarrassing players. He was taking them on and was able to see the whole pitch and picking out intricate passes at will. It was a phenomenal display and clearly he is up for the fight to win the only remaining trophy to evade him.

Whenever he got the ball the whole stadium was on its feet as they expected some more magic - and he delivered. He completed 90 per cent of his passes, created four chances and had nine touches in the opposition area. He now has nine World Cup goals and is just one shy of Gabriel Batistuta’s record but on this form, he will break it comfortably.

Tough side

Argentina have many similarities to the team that last lifted the world crown in 1986. They relied on the magic of Diego Maradona back then who was at his peak and were a difficult side to beat. Messi is coming to the end of his career and coach Lionel Scaloni has built a tough, resilient side to help get the best out of his talisman.

Yes, it is dangerous to rely on one man so much but when Messi is still this good Argentinians won’t care. He is in the twilight of his career but he still has those twinkle toes and at full time the fans were left chanting his name.

If he continues to play like this it will be hard to stop them from going all the way.