After the euphoria of beating Denmark 1-0 to advance from the World Cup group stage for the second time in history, Australia had to wait to find out who they would face in the Round of 16.
Several hours later, Argentina emerged as Group C winners, putting the Socceroos on course for a showdown with Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest player of all time.
Among the pre-tournament favourites, Argentina suffered a surprise loss to Saudi Arabia on their opener, before rebounding with 2-0 wins over Mexico and Poland to steady the ship.
Messi, probably at his last World Cup, had a penalty saved by Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, but second-half goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez pushed them over the edge.
The two-time World Cup champions will be hot favorites against the Socceroos but, perhaps with the loss to Saudi Arabia fresh in their memory, Messi says they won’t be satisfied against the country ranked 35 places below them.
“The match against Australia will be very difficult,” said Messi after the victory over Poland.
“Anyone can beat anyone, everything is equal. We have to prepare for the game like we always do.”
Both teams face a brief pre-game upset at 6am AEDT on Sunday morning.
Argentine coach Lionel Scaloni spoke about the schedule.
“Today we are happy, but not euphoric, because it seems crazy for us to play in little more than two days”, reported Scaloni after the game.
“I really can’t understand this. It’s almost 1 am, tomorrow is Thursday. We could have rested more.
“I want to make it clear that it doesn’t feel right to me that we only have two and a half days off after being first in the group.
“These conditions are not good.”
Scaloni was under a mountain of pressure after Argentina relinquished their lead and lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia.
The nation’s soccer powerhouse, and the man himself, will be desperate to see Messi lift the World Cup, virtually the only thing left on his list of conquests.
Scaloni is also learning from Saudi Arabia’s Round of 16 match against Australia.
“We played a good game and we have to continue. We are neither candidates nor favorites, we remain the same, ”she said.
“We are a tough team and we will fight. It is totally wrong to think that we will be champions by winning today.
“All the teams are very tough, as I’ve always said, Saudi Arabia is a great team. Football is football.
“You can play well and lose, that’s the feeling I had after Saudi Arabia. We may not have played well, but we deserved to win.
“All games are tough and now, if you think Australia’s is going to be easy, you’re wrong.
“They showed they are tough. When you play in a World Cup and represent your country, you grow”.