Tim Cahill’s silence in Qatar leaves uneasy feeling amid Socceroos World Cup celebrations | World Cup 2022

Tim Cahill has done a lot of talking these past few weeks. He has pumped up Socceroos players, pressed the flesh at Fifa events and maintained his relationship with Qatar’s World Cup officials.

Seemingly, the only people to whom he has not spoken is the media. When Cahill was named as Australia’s “head of delegation” on 15 November, the not-unreasonable assumption was that he would have something to say. The caveat, of course, is that making yourself available to say things also opens you up to squirmy questions about who you work for and why.

It has been almost three years since Cahill joined Samuel Eto’o, Xavi and Cafu in becoming an ambassador for this hugely controversial World Cup. At the time, the Socceroos great was criticised but since then the scrutiny has, in relative terms, been sparse.

Even now he is protected from the glare, in large part thanks to the global censure directed at his higher-profile counterpart David Beckham, another former player being paid handsomely by the Gulf state, and whose sheen of celebrity has glossed over human rights issues.

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Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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But he must have known that, at some point during the tournament, the queries would come and it would be prudent to prepare some kind of answer. If he has one, nobody knows what it is, because he did not speak. By the time the bulk of Australia’s media landed in Doha three weeks ago, SBS journalist Ben Lewis had already been granted and conducted a brief interview with Cahill. It was brief because Cahill, with the help of a PR officer, shut down a question about the Socceroos’ collective protest against the “suffering” of migrant workers and safety of LGBTI+ people. He walked away without a word. Without even a cursory response or a no comment, just a look of indignation and a turn on his heels.

Afterwards, Lewis was assured Cahill was not avoiding the issue and would willingly answer questions later in the week. Several days later, Football Australia – who was not in control of the 42-year-old’s schedule or media commitments – managed to organise a press conference with Cahill. That was cancelled on short notice due to a schedule clash and never eventuated, despite repeated requests right up until Sunday afternoon.

Before the World Cup began, I managed to secure a brief interview with @Tim_Cahill . He happily answered my first two questions. This is what happened when I asked Australia’s Head of Delegation if he supported the Socceroos’ human rights video. pic.twitter.com/MSkad5IJAO

— Ben Lewis (@benlewismedia) December 4, 2022

Members of the media were told he did not want to divert attention away from the team, an explanation that feels at odds with the selfie video Cahill had distributed on his behalf the day after Australia’s landmark win over Denmark. Guardian Australia received the video unsolicited via an email from Qatar 2022’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, the backer of his lucrative ambassadorship. It was also shared with other journalists.

Over the course of those three weeks on the ground, Australian media were offered the opportunity to speak with almost every member of the Socceroos squad and coaching staff, along with Football Australia’s chief executive, James Johnson, and the federal minister for sport, Anika Wells. Cahill, while silent, was omnipresent, on the pitch at training at the Aspire Academy and in the dressing room before and during games.

And this is the point which complicates the situation. The Socceroos, who qualified only five months before their opening match, would not have secured residence at the world-class Aspire if it were not for Cahill’s role as its chief sports officer. The use of the genuinely impressive facility, albeit one funded by the state and at the centre of Qatar’s Football Dreams project, contributed to Australia’s unprecedented success during the tournament. Its recovery resources are unmatched. Aspetar, the world-renowned orthopaedic and sports medicine hospital, is next door and analysed every inch of the players’ bodies to determine their fitness or otherwise before each match.

With all of this in mind, it is difficult to form an argument that FA should not have accepted this opportunity and capitalised on the high-performance advantages it offers. On top of this, Cahill has clearly been a supportive figure during the campaign and a source of motivation for the players, many of whom look up to him. The squad were here to play football, and he undoubtedly aided that cause.

Cahill, who lives in Doha, said in 2020 that his Qatar 2022 ambassadorship was “a natural progression for me”. His own website states that part of his role is to “promote various activities and legacy programmes” run by the Supreme Committee, including workers’ welfare. Had he spoken, he may have chosen to draw on one of the points the made in the Socceroos’ nuanced video, which acknowledged some improvements in the country, including the dismantling of the kafala system and improved working conditions and a minimum wage (though the Socceroos also said more must be done).

Unfortunately, we do not know what he thinks about any of it. Nor do we know if he has spoken about the issue with the Socceroos, who feel strongly about their cause. This piece would have benefited considerably from Cahill’s input – it is his right to state his own beliefs for the public record. All we know is that he did not entertain the question before the tournament and did not engage thereafter.

Cheering crowds welcome home Australia’s World Cup Socceroo heroes | Sport

Socceroos players have returned to a heroes’ welcome at a packed Sydney airport, with fans clapping and cheering for the players after a historic run to the knockout stages at the World Cup.

About a quarter of the squad that lost valiantly to Argentina in the round of 16 arrived back in Sydney on Monday night, with another contingent landing in Melbourne.

Supporters carrying signs and flags chanted and stomped for the players, creating a ruckus to welcome back a squad that had captured the heart of the country.

A Socceroo fan cheers the players as they arrived at Sydney airport.
A Socceroo fan cheers the players as they arrived at Sydney airport. Photograph: Jeremy Ng/AAP

Australian captain and goalkeeper, Matt Ryan, told reporters the response from fans had been “phenomenal.”

“After the games we’d have over there, we’d see the reaction from the Australian public, through footage and videos, at Federation Square and lots of other places, and the support has been unreal.”

“And its nice to come back here and see it with our own eyes, we can’t thank the Australian public enough,” Ryan added.

“We loved every second of it,” said striker Jason Cummings. “It was a dream come true, gone now, and what we done was unbelievable.”

“We saw the video of supporters in Melbourne and it really motivated us, it really geed us up, the support has been absolutely unbelievable.”

Fans flocked to the airport to show their support and appreciation for a playing group that was not expected to go far, with Ryan saying Australia’s performance had proven the Socceroos could match it with the best in the world.

Garang Kuol of the Socceroos signs autographs at Sydney airport.
Garang Kuol of the Socceroos signs autographs at Sydney airport. Photograph: Mark Evans/Getty Images

“We’ve shown the world Australia can play football at a very, very good level,” he said.

Many of the assembled fans agreed with Ryan, with a recurring sentiment being that the Socceroos had “proven the doubters wrong.”

“It was a bit of an unexpected journey,” says supporter Alexis Laffont through a wide grin.

“But it was unforgettable, the Tunisia game was one of the best moments of my life. We came tonight to thank the players and to show them how proud we are of them.”

Signs showing appreciation and pride in the players littered the crowd, with many fans saying they had come just to show the players some love after a difficult loss.

“We came down to support the boys tonight,” said another supporter, Michael. “We want to show them how much we love them, they’ve done an amazing job, no matter the result.”

Others told the Guardian they hoped the Socceroo’s success would translate into momentum for the A-league, where a portion of Australia’s squad plays.

Michelle, an A-League fan, said Australia’s successful campaign reflected just how good the standard was in the national competition.

“What makes it amazing is that a majority of the players come from the A-League or have played in the league, and as an avid I like fan it was awesome to see them do so well and to see everyone to watch them.”

“Hopefully this means they’ll come along to A-League and W-League matches as well,” she said.

She said the huge turnouts and passionate support at living viewing sites across the country reflected a country that had already embraced both the Socceroos, and the sport itself.

“The atmosphere was incredible, the turnouts were great, despite what some had to say about the flares that were lit. We’re not hooligans, we just love football.”

“We just want to see that momentum channeled into the grassroots here, into the game here, and especially in the lead up to the women’s World Cup next year.”

Momentum was a recurring theme among the returning players as well, with goalkeeper Daniel Vukovic saying it was important the moment was capitalised upon.

“We need to keep growing the game in this country, and to capitalise on this moment. And the best way to do that is to go out and support your local team.”

“The support we received has been amazing, and we just want to see that continue to grow.”

Argentina’s success against Socceroos ‘brings out the fire’ in Lionel Messi | World Cup 2022

Oh, Aziz. You’ve done it now. The second it happened, Argentina’s players knew there was only one way this was going to end. Anyone who has watched Lionel Messi a lot did, and there has been a lot of him to watch. By the time they left the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, scene of his 1,000th game, his teammate Alexis Mac Allister was laughing about it, the apparent inevitability of it all. Australia had picked the wrong guy: that’s not a knife, this is a knife.

There were 10 minutes to go until half-time, there had been little sign of a breakthrough, and Messi had given the ball away the last two times he had it, when he and Aziz Behich clashed out on the right touchline. The Dundee United player barged him, grabbed his shirt and had a word or five. He also gave away a foul. Messi reacted: twice. First he faced up to his opponent, then he took the free kick, fast. Within seconds, Argentina had the lead and their captain had scored his 789th career goal – seven hundred and eighty nine – and his first in a World Cup knock out.

Heading across from the touchline, Messi had rolled it towards Mac Allister, turned and continued to the area. “I always try to pass to him, try to make sure the ball gets to him because if he has it everything’s much easier,” the midfielder said, three hours later, but this time was different. Yet if one of those rare moments when he wasn’t looking for Messi, still he still found him, like the ball has a will of its own. And, let’s face it, whose feet would you rather the ball fell at?

“The pass was for Otamendi, but it came to Messi, which was a bit of a surprise,” Mac Allister admitted, mission accomplished if accidentally. Otamendi lost control – “I told Leo it was an assist,” he joked later – but Messi rescued it, took a touch and then played another pass, this time into the net. The shot went through the legs of Stoke’s Harry Souttar – alas, it was neither wet nor Wednesday – and beyond the dive of Matty Ryan. It was Argentina’s first shot on target, and the first time he had been in the area.

Lionel Messi of Argentina leaves three Australian defenders trailing.
Lionel Messi of Argentina leaves three Australian defenders trailing. Photograph: Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Getty Images

“It’s probably the only chance I’ll ever get to share the pitch with arguably the greatest to ever do it [and] it’s a bit surreal, a moment to reflect on at the end: to look back and say you got to compete with one of the greatest,” Australia’s Jackson Irvine said. “What stands out is his understanding of the game, how he picks and chooses his moments to come to life. And when he does he’s hard to stop. We controlled him so well for most of the first half, but it’s that one little moment, that one half-metre you give him. We’ve seen it hundreds of times: so ruthless, so clinical, and ultimately that was the difference.”

Quick Guide

Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

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There was just one doubt. Had Messi chosen that moment himself? Or had Behich – who, it should be said, almost scored the goal of the World Cup when for a moment he was more Messi than Messi – accidentally chosen it for him? A rule going back years reads: don’t piss off “La Pulga”. Behich had done that, waking something in him, the animal within, and payback was swift. After all, when it was later suggested that the first thought Argentina’s players had when they saw the foul was “oh, you fool”, that they could see it coming, Mac Allister laughed. “For sure, for sure,” he replied.

“When those things happen, it brings out the fire he has inside, the personality he has, and that makes him even greater than he is,” the Brighton midfielder said. “He always tries to give his best but those moments work for him, they’re useful: he plays even better, and in games like he’s even greater yet. He has those touches that appear from nowhere and win you the game.”

“He is the most important player we have: he knows that, he helps us a lot and we are proud to have him,” Mac Allister said. “I enjoy playing with him, it makes me happy: for me he’s the best player in history of the world.”

Not everyone agrees back home. Mac Allister’s father, Carlos “Colorado” Mac Allister played just three times for Argentina, his international career lasting less than a month and taking in two matches against Australia in the playoff that took them to the 1994 World Cup and a friendly against Germany wedged in the middle. At least he can, and does, always say that his captain then was Argentina’s other great No 10, Diego Maradona. His son’s captain is the man trying to emulate him.

“We always have that argument,” Mac Allister junior said. “For my dad, Maradona was very important, not just in his career but in his personal life and he is very grateful. For me, it’s a source of pride to be at Leo’s side and play with him. For me obviously he’s the best in history. We argue: he says Maradona is the best ever; I say it’s Messi. It’s a discussion I don’t think will ever end.”

Argentina 2-1 Australia: World Cup last 16 player ratings | World Cup 2022

Argentina (4-1-2-3)

Emiliano Martinez (GK) For 96 minutes the Aston Villa goalkeeper was notable only for the Argentinian flag dyed onto the side of his head. But in the 97th minute he reacted magnificently to deny Garang Kuol one-on-one and secure his country’s passage. 7

Nahuel Molina (RB) Like most of Argentina’s defensive-minded players Molina’s job for most of the night was to keep the ball in motion and not lose concentration. Job done. 6

Cristian Romero (CB) Untroubled by Mitchell Duke’s physicality and Australia’s direct lines of attack but remains a surprise selection ahead of Lisandro Martinez. 6

Nicolás Otamendi (CB) The veteran was busy at both ends of the pitch, defending stoutly, attempting 97 passes, and playing his part in the opening goal by providing a screen for Lionel Messi, then getting out of his captain’s way. 7

Marcos Acuña (LB) Plenty of collisions, theatrics, and dangerous crosses in an eye-catching display from the chunky little bull down the left. Acuña looks and plays like he was designed in a lab to fit the prototype of a South American World Cup bruiser. 7

Rodrigo De Paul (CM) Demonstrated plenty of graft in midfield to ensure his side was never bullied by Australia. It was his hustle that forced Mat Ryan into the catastrophic error that led to the second goal. 7

Enzo Fernández (CM) Just 21 years old and with only three international caps coming into the tournament, the Benfica regista was Argentina’s metronome. Nobody on the field touched the ball more often, and his 100 passes were executed with 92% efficiency. The only criticism would be how safe most of those passes were, circulating play from one side to the other without offering much incision. Credited with an own goal but he could do little about the massive deflection as he charged out to block Craig Goodwin’s shot. 7

Quick Guide

Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

Photograph: Caspar Benson

Thank you for your feedback.

Alexis Mac Allister (CM) Busy and neat in the first half without taking the game by the scruff of the neck. Played his part in the opening goal, providing the two to Messi’s one as the ball came infield and the legend darted towards the box. 6

Papu Gómez (LW) The veteran was a late bolter for the squad, and then a surprise stand-in for the injured Angel Di Maria. He only lasted 50 minutes before he was sacrificed for Lisandro Martinez and a change of shape, but in that time he contributed to the opening goal by knocking the headed clearance from the corner on the volley to Messi with excellent technique. 6

Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring the opener.
Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring the opener. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

Lionel Messi (AM) In his 1,000th professional match Messi scored his 94th goal for for his country, and his first in a World Cup knockout. The goal was of the type you see when you close your eyes and dream of Messi; a slow build-up, a quicksilver change of pace, a one-two around the box, then a side-foot into the far corner beyond the goalkeeper. Around the goal it wasn’t his finest night. He looked fatigued and spent most of the game walking, but still head and shoulders the most dangerous player on the park. 8

Julián Álvarez (RW) The Manchester City youngster burnished his growing reputation with an energetic display that showed he will not shirk the rough and tumble. His goal ultimately proved the difference, and it was a smart finish after Ryan clumsily tried to run the ball out of his six-yard box. 7


Lisandro Martinez (50) Brought on just after the break to turn a back four into a five and his inclusion was justified late on with a trademark last-ditch block to deny Aziz Behich. 7

Nicolás Tagliafico (71) Dragged a good opportunity wide to seal the victory shortly after coming on. Didn’t seem to trust his speed to get closer to goal or his technique to beat Ryan from the edge of the box. 5

Lautaro Martinez (71) How do you rate a striker who repeatedly finds himself in the right position to score but then fails to execute in front of goal? In a 20-minute cameo the Inter forward pulled off the shoulder of the last defender time and again but side-footed over with only Ryan to beat, then shot straight at the keeper, before having a deflected effort saved. 6

Gonzalo Montiel and Exequiel Palacios (80) Brought on late to secure a narrow victory. n/a

Australia (4-5-1)

Mat Ryan (GK) A disastrous night for Australia’s captain on the occasion of his national record 10th World Cup appearance. He had little chance stopping Messi’s opener, but he was badly at fault for Argentina’s second, trying to dribble out of his six-yard box and succumbing to the pincer movement of De Paul and Álvarez. Some good saves late on demonstrated strength of character, but this result will weigh heavy on his head. 5

Miloš Degenek (RB) The third of Australia’s three right-backs this World Cup played his part in a robust defensive showing. His head-to-head with Acuña was classic World Cup theatre. 6

Harry Souttar (CB) It has been a memorable tournament for the giant centre-half and again he did not disgrace himself against storied opposition. Graham Arnold will be disappointed the Stoke City defender wasn’t more of a threat from set pieces. 7

Fran Karacic and Harry Souttar defend resolutely.
Fran Karacic and Harry Souttar defend resolutely. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Kye Rowles (CB) At times this tournament the gangly central defender has looked like a juvenile giraffe coming to terms with the length of his limbs, but his partnership with Souttar held firm for most of the night. The highlight was when he stood his ground to deny Messi a sight of goal when the Argentinian was weaving his magic. The lowlight was his role playing Ryan into difficulty, from which his keeper never escaped. 6

Aziz Behich (LB) Australia’s most dynamic presence, Behich was always willing to get forward from fullback, relished the scrap, and so nearly scored one of the all-time World Cup wonder goals before Martinez slid in to break Australian hearts. His industry and cross led to the clearance that allowed Goodwin to strike Australia’s consolation goal, but his hot-headedness also precipitated Argentina’s opener when, after squaring up to Messi on the touchline he allowed Gomez to draw a foul in a dangerous area that ultimately led to the goal. 7

Mathew Leckie (RM) As hardworking as ever but denied time and space by Argentina’s control of possession. 6

Aaron Mooy (CM) So often Australia’s most influential force, the Celtic schemer was below par tonight. His range of passing was limited by Argentina’s territorial dominance and he was unable to hit targets from deep. As has been the case all World Cup his set-pieces were poor, preventing Souttar from capitalising on an obvious strength. 5

Keanu Baccus (CM) Brought in to stiffen Australia’s midfield, he was busy early on, keeping a close eye on Messi, as Australia held their own. Drifted as the game wore on and offered nothing at all in possession. The obvious player to be substituted after Argentina’s second goal went in. 5

Jackson Irvine (CM) Played further forward than in the three previous matches but that didn’t prevent another all-action display. He set the tone with a yellow card after just 15 minutes but never stopped trying to support Duke in attack or helping out his defence. He leaves Qatar with his reputation enhanced. 6

Riley McGree (LM) It’s hard to know what to make of McGree’s tournament. Tonight he put in a shift wide on the left but failed to make any attacking impact, consistent with a World Cup full of endeavour but only glimpses of quality. Sacrificed after an hour for Goodwin, before which he sent over Australia’s first corner of the month to find Souttar’s forehead. 5

Mitchell Duke (CF) Chased every lost cause and got through a mountain of work as Australia’s sole target up front, but never looked like threatening Argentina’s defence. 5

Substitute Garang Kuol goes close to a late equaliser.
Substitute Garang Kuol goes close to a late equaliser. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/FIFA/Getty Images


Ajdin Hrustic (58) The playmaker came into this World Cup his country’s brightest prospect but injury denied him a fast start and he has never caught up. Ineffective again tonight off the bench. 5

Craig Goodwin (58) Another Australian to leave the World Cup with his name in lights. He injected pace as a substitute and gambled with his speculative shot from the edge of the box that was deflected past Martinez. Another guilty of poor set-piece delivery. 6

Garang Kuol (72) Australia’s youngest ever male World Cup performer had the country on its feet in the 97th minute and only the keeper to beat, but Martinez was too big and strong to deny the fairytale ending. 5

Jamie Maclaren (72) Made little impression off the bench. This side is not set up for a nippy No 9 who plays in behind. 5

Fran Karačić (72) Did his job after coming on, including a nice interception to deny Martinez. 6

How Socceroos wonder boy Garang Kuol made World Cup history but missed his moment | World Cup 2022

If there was ever a game for Garang Kuol, this was it – and it very nearly was his. With injury-time ticking down, a (very) young substitute was in the box, twisting into space and approaching goal. When he shot on the turn there was every chance the Socceroos might have pushed Argentina to 120 minutes. Had Emiliano Martinez possessed slightly shorter arms, anything was possible.

It took a dive and a stretch to deny Kuol, but his 25 or so minutes on the pitch at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium was a landmark moment, not just for the teenager himself but also for the World Cup. At 18 years and 79 days, Kuol became the youngest player to play in the knockout stages at a finals since Pelé in 1958.

In the lead-up to the tournament, when expectations around Australia’s campaign were non-existent, there was a sense that the country at least had a secret X-factor, a kid who could maybe do something wondrous to shock an opponent and show off to the world. A lot has happened since then, and quite a few X-factors have made themselves known. But Kuol’s almost-equaliser felt like a fine way to finish – a sort of hat-tip to the future. Liked what you saw there? You just wait ‘til 2026.

Kuol talks with his feet more than his mouth, in short, no-nonsense statements. “To be honest, I didn’t really see much,” he says of his late chance. “Just tried to turn around and shoot, but on the replay I can see the keeper rushed out. Just a learning curve. Pretty tough it didn’t go in. Good save.”

Before he was subbed on, he had told himself he would score. Arnold had told him the same thing. “Both had the same expectations,” he says. “So when I wasn’t able to score I was very disappointed. Just got to move on.”

It is the mention of Lionel Messi that lights up something on his face. “Going one on one with Messi for a bit, like a dream,” he says, before turning his attention to what this Socceroos team can become. “I think in the future you’ll see a team at the level of Brazil and Argentina. People think [players] in Europe can fly or something. All humans, all with two feet. It’s just about the passion and the heart.”

Kuol knows all about that. He is yet to start a senior football match, selected by Arnold on form off the bench for the Central Coast Mariners. That’s kind of also how he was selected by Newcastle United, a surreal leap reserved for only the most promising talent who turned heads playing for the A-League All-Stars against Barcelona in May.

When he signed with Newcastle at the end of September, Eddie Howe preached patience in the face of excitement, prefaced a loan move with a view to develop a future Premier League player. At which club that development will take place remains an unanswered question, though somewhere in Portugal is a reported possibility.

“Not too sure yet, exciting,” Kuol says, before being stopped mid-sentence by a Socceroos media handler who promptly moved him on and told journalists only to ask questions about the World Cup. Before he goes anywhere, he will return to the Mariners for a final few games, and to see the community which had watched their young star in Qatar from a distance.

Kuol, the youngest Socceroo since Harry Kewell in 1996, has been followed closely and en masse from his home town of Shepparton in northern Victoria, where his family moved as refugees after fleeing South Sudan via his birthplace, Egypt.

“He makes us so happy,” Kuol’s aunty, Agoness, said last week. “It makes us feel like we can fly, watching him play at the World Cup. And [we’re] so happy for his parents, who worked so hard for this.”

Socceroos push Argentina all the way and exit World Cup as Australian heroes | Australia

Aziz Behich had fire in his eyes and a protest on his lips, remonstrating as if he hadn’t just needlessly upended Papu Gomez. The referee was hearing none of it – emotion gets you nowhere on this stage. The left-back had done it simply because he was pissed off, rankled by a shoulder charge from Lionel Messi that was every bit as legitimate as his subsequent move was not.

World Cup matches are decided by moments. By the angled head of Mitchell Duke and the cut inside of Mat Leckie. By a free-kick for Messi near the corner flag. And it had to be him. History will show tonight was all about Messi. About his 1,000th match and his first goal in the knockout stages of a World Cup. If Argentina go on to win the thing, Australia will be nothing more than a step in the right direction.

In that sense, there are worse ways for the Socceroos to go than to be a part of a bigger positive story than their own big positive story. They could have been knocked out by, say, a dive in the box from Fabio Grosso, or an underwhelming group-stage showing in which they scored no goals from open play. Qatar 2022 was not Australia’s tournament, but it was also very much Australia’s tournament. It was the tournament of dancing in Federation Square and pop-up live sites around the country, of politicians with open ears and maybe now even open wallets, and of once again waking up at stupid hours for a reason other than to engage in self-flagellation under the guise of supporting your national team.

The Socceroos – including an otherwise-excellent Behich – will return home as heroes. Their coach, overseeing the final game of his contract, may have just bought himself another – if he wants it. After the opening goal, Graham Arnold’s hands followed Messi’s to the sky but for a very different reason, the sign of a heart and soul, poured into this project for four and a half years, on a comedown from the heavenly place he has inhabited for the past 10 days.

“I just hope that everyone back in Australia really respects what we’ve done and are proud of us as well,” Arnold said afterwards. “We took it to them. I felt that we finished off well. We had a great chance at the end there to equalise. I’ve got to be very, very proud of the boys. Just so grateful at the effort they’ve put in for me.”

Quick Guide

Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

Photograph: Caspar Benson

Thank you for your feedback.

Of course, the post-mortem will include some if onlys. If only Behich did not blow a gasket. If only a defender was standing in the exact spot Messi placed his finish instead of in the five spots directly surrounding the needle he threaded through them. If only, when there was still a chance of an equaliser, Mat Ryan had made that clearance the first time instead of attempting to dribble past Rodrigo De Paul.

Mat Ryan’s heavy touch leads to Argentina’s opener.
Mat Ryan’s heavy touch leads to Argentina’s second goal. Photograph: Javier García/REX/Shutterstock

But the overriding story is that this was not a bad Socceroos performance. Those match-deciding errors aside, it was a very good performance with all the makings of yet another upset of a much higher power. It was worthy of a team reaching the quarter-finals; the moving mass of blue-and-white tension in the stands confirmed it to be so. Australia forced the issue, yanked Messi out of his first-half dormancy, made him come alive even if to their own detriment. They were a lump in the throat of football gods for all the world to see.

Fans react as Argentina ends Australia’s World Cup hopes – video

Keanu Baccus, who not three weeks ago had Messi in his fantasy five-a-side team, shirt-fronted his hero in the opening minutes. The St Mirren man was here to play Paris Saint-Germain. It perfectly encapsulated the lack of deference that rendered this contest far closer to equal on the field than it appeared on paper.

The almost comeback did that too. With almost 80 minutes gone, Craig Goodwin smashed an errant shot that took a deflection and flew into the far corner. Behich, having long rededicated himself to the cause, took off an a run for the ages, a slalom past four players which would have made for one of the great goals of this World Cup had his shot not been blocked by a stretching Lisandro Martinez. Garang Kuol almost announced himself to the world but for a brilliant intervention by Emi Martinez at the death.

It was Mozart’s Requiem, the Socceroos pursued by death but still writing their own funeral on the edge of consciousness, willing it into existence with their final breaths. Now they are gone, but leave behind a brilliant score.

‘I wanted more’: Defeated but defiant, Graham Arnold fights on for game’s future | Australia

Proud but dejected in defeat, Graham Arnold says he will take a proper break before having “some good discussions” with Football Australia about whether or not he stays on as Socceroos coach.

He also used his final post-match press conference to reiterate the urgent need for more funding for football in Australia and call for a high-performance facility dedicated to the national teams.

Arnold left the field shell-shocked in the early hours of Sunday morning, after his Australian side gave Lionel Messi’s Argentina a late scare but ultimately lost 2-1 to end their remarkable World Cup campaign at the round of 16.

The 59-year-old’s contract expired with the full-time whistle at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, leaving the governing body with a decision to make about the future of a coach who has divided opinion but also steered the national team to a history-making run.

“I haven’t thought about the future,” Arnold said after the match. “My contract is up and I just want to go away, have a holiday, have a break and see what happens. I’ve worked extremely hard in this campaign.

“I haven’t even thought about it. I need a break, a rest and no doubt I’ll have some good discussions with the organisation.”

Arnold described Messi – who scored in his 1,000th career game – as “incredible, one of the greatest ever”, and said he had worked with his squad on ensuring they were not in awe of the seven-time Ballon d’Or while on the field.

“But wow, he’s remarkable,” he said. “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.”

Yet despite the success of his team, who made the Socceroos’ deepest run at a finals since 2006 and whose two wins earned the most points at the group stage to date, he still “felt we failed tonight”.

“I just wanted to win so badly for the nation, the fans and the game of football in Australia,” Arnold said. “Making the last 16 wasn’t enough – I wanted more. That’s just me. I know some people may be happy with it, but that’s just the way I am.”

Arnold was quick to praise captain and goalkeeper Mat Ryan, whose error gifted Argentina their second goal, saying “everyone makes mistakes, he’s been a fantastic captain and fantastic player”.

“I just said to the boys I couldn’t be more proud of the effort and everything they gave to me, and to the nation,” he added. “It’s been a four-and-a-half-year journey, a tough journey for everyone. We’re a bit disappointed as we could’ve got something more out of it, but I hope Australia is proud of these players. I thank them for all their work, the effort they put in through this campaign. It’s about making the nation proud, and I’m sure we did that.

“Everyone said before we came here we were the worst Socceroo team ever to qualify for a World Cup, but that’s gone now. We’ve done exceptionally well, making the last 16 and winning two games. The mixture of the young boys and senior boys has worked well.”

Arnold has been a strong advocate for football development in Australia, having only days ago expressed “massive concerns” and called for more funds and a thorough review of the country’s development structures.

“We have a lot to look at in Australian football,” he said. “It’s a sport that unites the nation – in my view it’s one of two teams that does unite the nation. We need to spend money and get help from the government to put some money into the game and develop kids.

“One thing I’d love to see before I finish up completely from football is that the government build us a house – we’ve been homeless since I’ve been involved for 37 years – a facility that can inspire, something like the AIS, something the government can fund for the national teams and for the good of Australian football.”

Lionel Messi, Argentina’s pavement artist who sees shapes before others | World Cup 2022

The thing that made the goal was the touch; one of those touches where Lionel Messi doesn’t so much trap the ball or kill it but lets it come and nestle, falling asleep on his toe like a fond old cat.

There were still six more touches to go before the ball would be left spinning, with a kind of purr, in the back of Mat Ryan’s net. But it was the touch that set the clock running, as the ball was looped back out to Messi on the touchline from his own free-kick.

You could see straight away that Messi had felt that familiar surge of static, seen the numbers whirring, the spaces start to yawn. Footballers are often said to carry a picture in their head. Messi has a great whirring bank of air traffic controller’s screens up there, alternate visions of the future to scroll through and finesse.

The touch spun the ball out in front of him, enough to draw the closest Australian shirt into his arc. This was a mistake. Don’t run towards Messi. His dribbling is a kind of judo-throw effect these days, using his opponent’s movement to trampoline into space.

Messi sniped away. He had time now. Messi gets a kind of pre-screening of these things, sees the shapes before anyone else, like a pavement artist conjuring Notre-Dame out of four chalk lines. He laid the ball back to Alexis Mac Allister, then sped in a straight line towards the thing he knew would happen next.

Mac Allister laid the ball in to Nicolás Otamendi. His touch was clumsy, but Otamendi had felt things thing starting to happen too. He performed a lovely little backwards sway, like a man leaping clear of the spray from a passing lorry.

Messi took the ball and had time to take another step, to open his hips slightly as he ran, the movement hidden in his stride, but enough to ease the ball to Ryan’s right, into the far corner and out of his reach. The Ahmad bin Ali Stadium erupted into a barrelling wave of noise on three sides, that distinctly Argentinian football noise, a shout of recognition as well as joy.

Twenty minutes into the second half, with Argentina 2-0 up after Julián Álvarez’s delightful steal swivel and finish, Messi did something for fun, a kind of roll through the greatest hits. Taking the ball in the centre circle he just decided to keep running, conjuring the ghosts of the Camp Nou, that surging, mulletted miracle of snap and spring. He ran out of space, smiled, jogged back, as the Bin Ali took the chance to sing his name.

And this is the thing with Messi. Every game is now a kind of Russian roulette. Click the hammer. Is this it? That sense of jeopardy, the fear that this might be the last of Messi on this stage will now move on to the quarter-finals of Qatar 2022.

How far can Argentina take him in this thing? Here they held on at times, almost ran away at others. Australia were dogged, dragged the score back to 2-1 and will feel they showed the best of themselves. Argentina have their weaknesses. But they also have a sense of heat about them. They kept to the 4-3-3 from the Poland game here, which may just come to stand as a step change for this team.

Lionel Messi shields the ball from a posse of Australia defenders.
Lionel Messi shields the ball from a posse of Australia defenders. Photograph: José Sena Goulão/EPA

At the last World Cup Argentina were subservient to Messi, a team constructed to serve their sun king, litter-bearers for the princeling in their midst. Messi became almost inert, the still centre of this imperial bureaucracy.

As a false 9 in this team he is simply a free agent, with three expert midfield rats behind, runners up front, and in the middle of this the orb, the seer, the floating brain.

The Ahmad bin Ali Stadium is a lightweight, fun, fizzy thing dumped down in the overflow carpark of the Mall of Qatar. It looks like a giant wedding cake decoration, or the world’s most imperious pop-up ice rink.

Mixing with the Argentinian fans here has been a fascinating contrast. In the middle of all these gleaming surfaces, here is something disorderly and ragged. Argentinian football isn’t just passionate or patriotic. It is devotional. And here the ground was packed with blue and white shirts, laced with those familiar songs, the warm wave of noise.

As the game kicked off Messi could be seen swinging his arms, loosening up, as though it had just occurred to him he was about to do some exercise. He walked for a bit. He took up a position miles in front of the rest of his team, the small, slouching, baggy shirted chimney sweep at the top of the tree.

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Graham Arnold likes to make the occasion small, to reduce it to simple human possibilities, will, desire, taking the moment. He talks about the “Aussie DNA”, a scrap-happy, fight-in-the-dog kind of schtick. Australia did fight here, but Argentina had enough to resist. And they now roll on, three games from the summit.

Another striking aspect was the love at the end as Messi led the celebrations, the feeling of the moment being cherished and locked in. It hasn’t always been this way. No other footballer has been so exposed to the glare, so relentlessly seen, analysed, venerated, bathed in light. Another one down. But there may just be a few more spins of the chamber before this thing is done.

Lionel Messi guides Argentina to victory over Australia despite late scare | World Cup 2022

Nothing this precious ever came easy. Argentina qualified for the quarter-finals of the World Cup with a performance that mixed two parts ecstasy with one part agony. They secured a two-goal lead through Lionel Messi and Julián Álvarez, played some of their most unfettered and spellbinding football of the tournament so far, peppered the Australian goal with shots during a gripping second half.

And yet, did you expect Australia to sit down and accept their fate? This Australia, with its SPFL stalwarts, its honest journeymen, its plethora of guys with surnames as first names? Australia took the hard road to Qatar and they took the hard road out of it, outgunned but never outrun, even burgling a late consolation goal and threatening an almighty shock.

They may not be stuffed with household names. They may have been given the run-around by the world’s greatest player for an hour. But they left every piece of themselves on that pitch, and somehow you sense the game Down Under will never be quite the same.

For half an hour it looked as though Australia might just succeed in dragging Argentina down to their level. They may have been outnumbered in the stands, where the armies of Albiceleste wrapped a tight tourniquet of noise around the pitch and barely stopped squeezing. But on the pitch it was the gold shirts who initially looked busier, buzzier, more numerous. They covered more ground, won most of the second balls, counterattacked with decent numbers.

Quick Guide

Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

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Argentina, by contrast, looked a little sleepy, having come through a draining game against Poland just three nights earlier. Though they kept the ball well, the urgency and the craft and the speculative runs weren’t quite there. Their press was surprisingly light: not so much a press, indeed, as a series of polite inquiries. Keanu Baccus, of St Mirren, was having a good game in the Australia midfield.

Meanwhile, Messi whirled and twirled away. He probed the channels, pottered from wing to wing, dived deep into the green waters of midfield. He was fouled by Keanu Baccus, of St Mirren. He saw a couple of passes cut out. It was, in other words, a quiet sort of game for the world’s greatest player. At which point Aziz Behich, of Dundee United, did something that, when it comes to the debrief, he might just regret.

It was 10 minutes before half-time and Messi was tussling for a ball near the right touchline. Behich, of Dundee United, barged him off the ball, grabbed a piece of his shirt, gave Messi a sharp Melburnian sledge whose contents will sadly be lost to history. Messi’s angry reaction was the first real human moment we had seen from him all night.

Maybe it meant something. Maybe it meant nothing. All we know that a few seconds later, Messi collected the ball on the right wing, knocked the ball to Alexis Mac Allister 30 yards out, and charged into the penalty area. With a speed and conviction we have not always seen from him this tournament, he picked up Mac Allister’s pass via the touch of Nicolás Otamendi and slid the ball into the bottom corner the way he has done several hundred times before, but never through the legs of Harry Souttar, of Stoke City. It was his first kick in the penalty area all game.

Julián Álvarez takes the ball off Australia goalkeeper Mathew Ryan to double Argentina’s lead.
Julián Álvarez takes the ball off Australia goalkeeper Mathew Ryan to double Argentina’s lead. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

That was the cue for Lionel Scaloni to make a change. In the second half he brought on Lisandro Martínez and switched to a back three. Had he been burned by the defeat to Saudi Arabia? Either way, it gave Argentina a width and verticality that suited them, with Australia beginning to push forward. They were playing with more energy now, more brio and swagger. Messi made a couple of brisk runs that evoked his electrifying peak. And so as Matt Ryan, of FC Copenhagen, received a routine back pass, Rodrigo de Paul sprinted towards him, murderously closing down his angles.

Ryan tried to dribble his way out of trouble. It was a moment of pure impulse, the sort of act where you can already hear the whoops of acclaim from the crowd, perhaps even glimpse your fleeting moment of viral fame. Unfortunately, in ducking clear of De Paul, he forgot that Álvarez was lurking behind him. Álvarez nicked the ball. Álvarez finished beautifully with his momentum taking him away from goal. Ryan blinked blankly. He could hear the whoops of acclaim. He could glimpse the viral notoriety. But this wasn’t the way he had planned it.

But things didn’t quite go the way Argentina planned them, either. Scaloni wheeled out his substitutes, the drummers in the Argentina end paced them home and thoughts began to turn to the quarter-final against the Netherlands. It was at this point that Craig Goodwin, of Adelaide United, took a wild shot from 30 yards. Enzo Fernández got a deflection on it. And somehow a second later the ball was looping into the top corner, with Emi Martínez totally flummoxed.

For a few minutes Australia’s players shook with belief, their fans with disbelief. They would have their moments too: Behich of Dundee United with the sort of brilliant mazy dribble they are well used to at Tannadice Park, Lisandro Martínez with a miraculous block. In the dying seconds of stoppage time Garang Kuol found himself alone with Emi Martínez, who saved his shot with a flying left hand. Argentina breathed again, and now they dream again.

Graham Arnold to name Australia lineup for Argentina on match day | Australia

Graham Arnold says he can see “in their faces” that his preferred World Cup starting lineup will be ready to go again against Argentina, but he will wait until match day to name it after having some “honest conversations” with players about their physical state.

The Socceroos are preparing for their biggest match in history on Saturday night (Sunday 6am AEDT) at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, where every member of the squad wants to play for a place in the quarter-finals. Arnold has kept faith in a largely unchanged XI in Qatar but faces the prospect of having to rotate his squad to cater for Fifa’s condensed schedule, which has drawn criticism from players and coaches under the physical strain of a three-day turnaround between the group stage and last 16.

Quick Guide

Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

Photograph: Caspar Benson

Thank you for your feedback.

For only the second of his tenure, he will wait until match day to name his team. “We need 24 hours,” Arnold said. “But I can see it in their faces, I can see it in their eyes. It’s something that I’m quite decent at – I can see it in their energy and their fatigue, and there is no fatigue. They don’t have any, they’re ready. This is a moment in their life that they’re all grabbing hold of.”

The Socceroos have been regulars at Aspetar, the internationally renowned sports science hospital next to their training base, Aspire Academy, for a full-body survey of their physical condition. The players also have access to doctors, sports scientists, physiotherapists and massage therapists around the clock, along with anti-gravity treadmills and altitude rooms.

“They have got everything there for us, you can ride a bike in the pool, you can do everything,” said Mat Leckie, who said he was “exhausted” after playing a starring role with a solo goal against Denmark.

“We’re very lucky to have that, it has been a massive advantage, especially given the intensity we play. We know as a team that we need to work harder and win our physical battles to get results. That has been the success for us, it’s massive to get our bodies right for the game.”

Arnold said he would partly rely on players’ honesty in telling coaching staff if they were not fit to start against Argentina. “It will be an honest conversation for myself and the players,” he said. “Because I know that every one of those players wants to start, but it’s not about them – it’s about the team and the nation.

“We’ve got great medical staff and I sit down pretty much always with the individual to see how he is personally and professionally, and if there is a player who feels he can’t start, he’s got to be honest and let us make those changes. And he may come on for the last half-hour, so instead of starting you can come on and finish it for us.”