Graham Arnold admits Australia were in awe of Leo Messi as Argentina broke Aussie hearts

Graham Arnold admits Australia were in awe of ‘fantastic’ Lionel Messi as the Argentinian maestro broke Aussies’ hearts… but Socceroos coach defends Mat Ryan despite horror error that gifted Julian Alvarez a goal

Graham Arnold admitted he was left in awe of Lionel Messi’s brilliance absolving Mat Ryan of any responsibility for Australia’s World Cup exit at the hands of Argentina.

The Socceroos’ thrilling run in Qatar came to an agonizing end in the last 16, with Argentina running out 2-1 winners at the end of a grueling contest at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium

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

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

Argentina’s skipper played his 1,000th career game and scored his first goal in the knockout stages of the World Cup with a typically exquisite finish.

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

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

Messi went through the gears in the second half and came close to adding a second with a stunning curling effort to set up Lautaro Martinez three times, only for the Inter Milan star to spurn each chance.

Graham Arnold admitted he was left in awe of the Argentine maestro

Graham Arnold admitted he was left in awe of the Argentine maestro

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

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

The goal against Australia was Messi's first in the knockout stages of a World Cup

The goal against Australia was Messi’s first in the knockout stages of a World Cup

And Arnold was left in awe of the Argentine maestro.

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

“We’ve really worked hard not to be in awe of him, because of the fantastic 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 fantastic players and Argentina should be so proud and happy to have players of that calibre.”

Mat Ryan gave Argentina their second goal with a disastrous error

Mat Ryan gave Argentina their second goal with a disastrous error

Arnold also provided support for Ryan, who was responsible for the Albiceleste’s second goal after 57 minutes. Australia looked to be playing the ball out from the back and Ryan found Rowles on the left just outside the penalty area, before receiving a return pass.

Under pressure from Rodrigo De Paul, instead of clearing the ball forward, Ryan made an ill-advised attempt to dribble past the Argentine midfielder.

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

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

Ryan attempted a poor dribble on Rodrigo De Paul but lost possession

Ryan attempted a poor dribble on Rodrigo De Paul but lost possession

Allowing Julian Alvarez to cut in and roll the ball into the empty goal for Argentina's second

Allowing Julian Alvarez to cut in and roll the ball into the empty goal for Argentina’s second

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

The Australian keeper, who otherwise had an excellent tournament, admitted his error was costly.

“It hurts a lot,” he said.

“It’s difficult, it’s tough. You feel a range of negative emotions. You just have to keep bouncing back. It’s life’s way of throwing away your hardest lessons.

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