Graham Arnold admits Australia were impressed by Leo Messi as Argentina broke Aussies’ hearts

Graham Arnold admits Australia were left in awe of ‘wonderful’ Lionel Messi as the Argentine maestro broke Aussies’ hearts… but Socceroos manager is defending Mat Ryan despite the horror mistake that offered a goal to Julian Alvarez

Graham Arnold admitted he was impressed by Lionel Messi’s brilliance and absolved Mat Ryan of any responsibility for Australia’s World Cup exit at the hands of Argentina.

The Socceroos’ exhilarating run in Qatar ended in agonizing fashion in the round of 16, with Argentina emerging 2-1 winners after an attritional game at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.

After nullifying the Albiceleste’s attacking threat for 35 minutes, Australia were undone by a moment of Messi magic in an otherwise disastrous first half.

Lionel Messi put in a superb performance as Argentina beat Australia 2-1 in the Round of 16

Playing his 1,000th career game, the Argentine skipper netted his first goal in the World Cup Round of 16 with a typically exquisite finish.

Messi exchanged passes with Alexis Macallister on the edge of the box as Argentina recycled the ball, before collecting it from Rodrigo De Paul.

After taking a touch to collect himself, he threaded a finish through Harry Souttar’s leg and past Ryan.

Messi kicked into high gear in the second half, coming close to adding a second with a wonderful curling effort and setting up Lautaro Martinez three times, only for the Inter Milan star to reject every chance.

Graham Arnold admitted he was impressed with the Argentinian maestro

Graham Arnold admitted he was impressed with the Argentinian maestro

Messi opened the scoring with 35 minutes played at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium

Messi opened the scoring with 35 minutes played at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium

The goal against Australia was Messi's first in the Round of 16 at a World Cup

The goal against Australia was Messi’s first in the Round of 16 at a World Cup

And Arnold was impressed by the Argentinian maestro.

“He’s one of the greatest of all time,” he said.

“We really worked hard not to be impressed with him, because of the great player he is.

‘But wow, he’s remarkable.

“I had the privilege of playing against Diego Maradona, and now coaching against Messi – they are both wonderful players and Argentina should be so proud and happy to have players of this caliber.”

Mat Ryan gave Argentina his second goal with a calamitous error

Mat Ryan gave Argentina his second goal with a calamitous error

Arnold also gave his support to Ryan, who was responsible for the Albiceleste’s second goal after 57 minutes. Australia looked to play the ball from behind, with Ryan finding Rowles to his left just outside the penalty area, before receiving a return pass.

Under pressure from Rodrigo De Paul, instead of clearing the ball forward, Ryan launched into a misguided attempt to dribble past the Argentina midfielder.

But he lost the ball, allowing Julian Alvarez to sweep and roll the ball into the empty net to double Argentina’s lead.

Australia pulled back a goal through Craig Goodwin’s deflected effort, but it was too little too late to salvage a result. Arnold, however, was quick to defend Ryan.

Ryan attempted an ill-advised dribble on Rodrigo De Paul, but lost possession

Ryan attempted an ill-advised dribble on Rodrigo De Paul, but lost possession

Allow Julian Alvarez to dive and roll the ball into the empty net for Argentina's second

Allow Julian Alvarez to dive and roll the ball into the empty net for Argentina’s second

“Everyone makes mistakes,” the 59-year-old said after the game. “He’s been a fantastic captain and a fantastic player.”

The Australian keeper, who also had an excellent tournament, admitted that his mistake had cost him dearly.

“It hurts a lot,” he said.

‘It’s hard, it’s hard. You experience a range of negative emotions. You just gotta keep bouncing back. This is how life teaches you the hardest lessons.

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