‘The whole of Argentina would love to be here’
Argentina players came off the pitch on Saturday elated and relieved to have made it to the World Cup quarter-finals after Lionel Messi set them on their way to a 2-1 win but Australia stormed back in the final minutes for a thrilling end.
"The game was under control until they got a deflected goal," said Messi, whose team had to battle to keep Australia at bay after a late own goal brought them back into the game and prompted a siege on Argentina's defence.
"It was a tough game, a tough day. We had very little time to rest. We were tired. It was a very physical game. We're happy with this victory and another step forwards. We're through, that's the important thing," Messi added.
The 35-year-old scored on his 1,000th career appearance to reach nine World Cup goals in total and surpass the tally of his great predecessor and fellow countryman Diego Maradona.
He paid tribute to the legions of fans in Qatar making matches virtually like home games for Argentina.
"These are incredible moments. We want to thank all the people who are here. The whole of Argentina would love to be here," Messi said after leading celebrations on the pitch.
"This unity that we have enjoyed for a while is very beautiful. It's incredible how the fans are living each game and transmitting so much passion and energy. I thank them because it's incredible."
"We had played very recently, we didn't have much time to rest up. We were concerned. They were very strong. Luckily, we found the goal and we were one goal ahead and then we were two goals ahead. And then we had a setback. That's the World Cup for you. The matches are always difficult.
"We've taken another step and now another difficult one is coming," added Messi, whose team face the Netherlands in the quarter-finals.
Messi's team mates were, like the adoring fans, falling over themselves to praise his role as captain and talisman.
"It's a privilege to play with Messi. With him on the pitch we know that we just need to be patient because he is the ace up our sleeve," said Nahuel Molina.
Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez pulled off an extraordinary block at the end and was also relieved to have got through.
"What suffering to have a game totally under control and then out of nowhere they score from a deflection. We had four or five on target and we couldn't score," he said.
"I knew I had to help and luckily I was able to at the end. We ended up suffering, digging in, winning everything in the air. Warriors are made in battle. Today we took another step forward as a team ... I dedicate that block to the fans."