Argentina’s first knockout stage match against Australia gave Manchester United target Enzo Fernandez a chance to carry on his exceptional World Cup form in Qatar, with Lisandro Martinez also featuring as a second-half substitute.
The 21-year-old Benfica midfielder has been linked with a move to the Premier League, with the Red Devils keenly interested in the player, having tracked his progress during his time at River Plate.
Enzo only moved to Portugal in the summer, but some reports suggest that a move could even happen as early as January, although triggering his €120m release clause seems unlikely at this stage.
The Argentinian’s performance against the Socceroos this evening at times showed why he is the talk of Europe, and United must surely be kicking themselves for not bringing him to Old Trafford when his fee was as low as €12m.
Fernandez was an assured presence in possession as Argentina dominated the ball against Australia for long periods of the game.
Neither side was much of a threat in an attacking sense, with Lionel Messi breaking the deadlock with a skilfully disguised finish that was the only sot on target of the first half.
Aside from that it was an exercise in patience – as much for those watching the first half as those playing in it – as Argentina controlled the game by limiting their risk on and off the ball.
After the interval the game showed a little more life, despite Manchester United’s Lisandro Martinez coming on for attacking midfielder Alejandro Gomez to protect Argentina’s lead moments after the break.
L’Albiceleste doubled their lead after some good pressing high up the pitch gave Julian Alvarez a chance at a cheeky finish, before a heavy deflection off Enzo Fernandez put Australia back in the game with 15 minutes to go in normal time.
A crucial block from Lisandro kept Argentina’s lead intact Australia pushed for an equaliser, his introduction to the game proving decisive.
Enzo Fernandez could hardly be blamed for the own goal, but he will certainly have been thanking Lisandro Martinez for his timely challenge as it proved to be a pivotal moment as Argentina went on to claim the win.
The midfielder was otherwise flawless, registering an impressive 110 touches and boasting a 93% passing accuracy in his role as a deep-lying playmaker in the team. He won five duels and registered three tackles to boot, demonstrating his ability on and off the ball.
With Argentina through to the next round, both players will be hoping to start in the mouthwatering quarter-final against the Netherlands.