To celebrate the official completion of ‘Striker’ Stadium, Australia played hosts to South American powerhouse Argentina in a match that looked for a long time like it could develop into the football upset of the century.
Finally – deep into the second half – Argentina overcame their defiant opponents to win the match 2-1… but the game certainly did not go to plan for the Messi-led Argentinians.
Australia began with a 3-4-3 formation and actually had the run of play in the opening stages of the match, outplaying their more fancied rivals with enthusiasm and momentum. The first shots of the match came from Australian strikers, and though they were from long range and lacked power, they sounded an ominous early warning to Argentina.
In the 24th minute the match was torn wide open when veteran Australian striker, Tim Cahill, latched onto a forward pass from the midfield and turned just inside the box. Cahill took a touch as the Argentinian defense closed, and then Sergio Romero sprang off his goal line to shut down the danger. The keeper caught Cahill’s ankles and brought the striker down. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot.
Cahill took the penalty and made no mistake, giving Australia a surprise early lead, and leaving Argentina’s team of superstars as stunned as the capacity home-crowd.
Top: Always a threat, Australian striker, Tim Cahill, is brought down in the penalty box by a challenge from Argentina’s keeper, Sergio Romero.
Bottom: Cahill converts the penalty attempt to give Australia a surprise 1-0 lead.
Immediately after the goal, Australian coach Ange Postecoglou went to his substitutes bench, replacing two strikers for fresh defenders, and changing the shape of the team to a 4-5-1. The deeply defensive formation was a tactic to protect an unlikely lead, but it left Cahill stranded without support for the rest of the match.
Australia held Argentina scoreless until half time, and – to be honest – Argentina were lackluster on the ball and played without imagination.
The half-time break saw a change in the match’s momentum as Australia’s defensive tactics began to result in a self-inflicted built up of pressure that could not be alleviated. Despite slowing down play, the home team nevertheless lost possession in crucial areas of the pitch and were forced to defend dourly.
Finally in the 60th minute, Argentina leveled the score on the back of a corner. The ball was whipped into the near post where Angel Di Maria had managed to slip his marker and find a few inches of space. Standing on the edge of the 6-yard box, Di Maria met the corner cross with a powerful header that beat keeper Ryan from close range.
Di Maria opens the scoring for the South Americans with a powerful header from close range.
The equalizer set Australia back on its heels and gave momentum to Argentina. Increasingly, Australia was suffering from a lack of outlet options forward, and the team began sitting deeper on the ball. Argentina pressed for a mistake, and the balance of the match turned perilously.
In the 78th minute Argentina finally snatched the lead after yet another corner. The initial cross was defended by Australia and the ball cleared downfield. But Mercado floated the ball back into the penalty box with a long speculating pass that landed at the feet of the most dangerous man in world football – Messi.
In the chaos of a scrambling goalmouth, the little master latched onto the long ball, turned in one movement, and hammered a shot past the goalkeeper to seal a 2-1 Argentinian victory.
Top: After a scrambling clearance, Mercado floats a long ball back into the chaos of the Australian goalmouth.
Bottom: That man Messi! Amidst the confusion of Australia’s frantic clearance, Messi receives the perfect pass and fires on goal from close range to seize a 2-1 victory for Argentina.
The last ten minutes of the match were listless and without purpose. Australia had their strike weapons sitting on the bench and could not generate another opportunity, whilst Argentina seemed content to play out time.
Final score; A 2-1 victory to Argentina.