FIFA World Cup 2022 Preview: Argentina vs. Australia — December 3, 2022

Doha, Qatar; Argentina forward Lionel Messi (10) controls the ball during the second half against Poland in a group stage match during the 2022 World Cup at Stadium 974. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Argentina takes on Australia in an all-southern hemisphere Round of 16 tie this Saturday at the Ahmed Bin Ali stadium.

This fixture would’ve seemed unlikely on Nov. 22 after both teams suffered damaging defeats in their opening matches, Argentina losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in a historic upset while Australia were humbled 4-1 by 2018 champions France. However, both teams recovered remarkably, winning both their next two games to book their spots in the knockout stages. 

Argentina will be favorites to advance and face either the Netherlands or USA in the quarter-finals, but if this competition has taught us anything, it’s never count out the upset. 

Argentina Key Player: Lionel Messi

No surprises here, but Argentina’s World Cup hopes and dreams revolve around their diminutive No. 10. And so far he has delivered. 

The five-time Balon d’Or winner has scored two goals and assisted one but these numbers mask the full impact he’s made pulling his team through the group stages. An 83.5 passing grade makes Messi the best passing forward at this World Cup, according to our metrics. He is in the tournament’s top 10 overall for completed line-breaking passes (25) and through-balls (6), and this precise passing has resulted in 11 chances created, joint highest for the tournament alongside Christian Eriksen and Antoine Griezmann.

He has been equally effective when he holds onto the ball, with his 83.6 dribbling grade making him the best dribbling forward, too. He’s completed 11 of his 18 dribble attempts.

The only small fault in Messi’s stats so far is that his 2.24 expected goals (xG) is higher than his two goal contribution, but this highly influenced by his saved penalty against Poland. However, his 86.8 shooting grade ranks fourth among forwards, and he leads the tournament in both shots and shots on target. If this volume and quality continues, expect more goals. 

Australia Key Player:  Harry Souttar

Souttar has been a rock at the back and integral to Australia’s back-to-back clean sheets against Tunisia and Denmark that helped them qualify for this round. He has been dominant in the air, winning 17-of-21 aerial contests he’s been involved in, giving him a 93.0 aerial duel grade — our highest in the competition. Overall, he has a 79% challenge win rate and isn’t afraid to put his body on the line when needed, winning three of his four 50/50 challenges and delivering nine blocks so far this tournament.

Souttar is equally adept with the ball at his feet, completing 13 of his 16 line-breaking passes for second most on the Australian team. This will be crucial in helping Australia launch counter-attacks whenever the opportunities arise on Saturday. 

Matchup to watch: Ángel Di María vs.Aziz Behich

With Messi’s brilliance, the quality of Angel Di Maria can sometimes go less noticed. The winger is second in command when it comes to creativity on this Argentinian team, with his 79.5 passing grade and 74.4 dribbling grade ranking only behind Messi, while his crossing grade of 72.8 is the best in the squad. All grades rank him in the top 20 of wingers at the tournament.

Di Maria’s attacking ability could put significant stress on an Australian defense that struggled facing similar quality against France. Australia particularly struggled on the left-hand side, where French right wingers Ousmane Dembele and Kingsley Coman combined to complete 7-of-11 dribbles (64%) and 2-of-5 crosses (40%) which led to one assist and two other big chances created. Aziz Behich was 0-for-3 on dribbles defended that day and was negatively graded four times for his defensive positioning. Australia will require him to perform better to contain Di Maria’s threat on Saturday if Australia hopes to pull off yet another upset at this World Cup.


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