This Saturday, at 8 p.m., Australia will play the second round of 16 of a World Cup in its history against Lionel Messi's Argentina. A prestigious historic meeting for a country where football is far from being the number one sport.

World Cup 2022, Argentina-Australia: the Socceroos facing a historic challenge and a country to conquer ; conquer

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    Argentina 2 – 1

    World Cup 2022, Argentina-Australia: the Socceroos face a historic challenge and a country to conquer

    Australia

    • L. Messi 35'
    • J. Álvarez 57'
    • E. Fernández 77' (csc.)

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On paper, Graham Arnold's Australia was not to pass the group stage of the World Cup in Qatar. Having fallen into group D with the French title world champion and the Danes, the Socceroos were not favorites. Far from there. The inaugural 4-1 conceded against the Habs also seemed to condemn them a little. But, in the meantime, the other favorite of the group, Denmark, has failed in the great widths. Held in check by Tunisia (0-0) and beaten by Kylian Mbappé's band (1-2), the Scandinavians found themselves playing their qualification against Australians reinvigorated by their success against Tunisia (1-0) . A dynamic that finally made the difference in favor of the partners of Mathew Leckie (1-0). Result: for the second time in their history in the World Cup, after 2006, the Socceroos will play in the round of 16.

In Germany, sixteen years earlier, the days of the southern hemisphere had fallen with honors (0-1) against future world champions Italy. This Saturday, at 8 p.m. French time, Australians have a date with history. And for the decor, what better than to measure up to the Argentina of King Lionel Messi? “I've always loved Messi and I think he's the greatest to ever play football,” defender Miloš Degenek said. “I am a Messi fan. I think he is the best player of all time that I have ever seen. He does things that no one else does”, outbid attacking midfielder Mathew Leckie. That's for the tribute part. But if the pleasure of facing the stars of Lionel Scaloni is there, the Australians do not want to serve as a sparring partner for the Albicelestes despite their outsider status. This is what Degenek said, who gave an emotional speech to motivate his troops.

Australians ready to give everything against Messi

“It's not an honor to play against him (Messi, editor's note) because he's only human, like we all are. It's an honor to be in the round of 16 of a World Cup. Whether we played against Argentina or against Poland, it would always have been an honour. Apart from that, it's 11 against 11. There are not 11 Messi, there is one. We know their team, it is full of stars. Even Dybala is on the bench. You must believe it. We have to believe in ourselves. We have to believe in all our players, be it Kye (Rowles), Harry (Souttar), Aziz (Behich), Nate (Atkinson), Fran (Karacic), Bailey (Wright), Thomas Deng, etc…. We must believe and we must have confidence in our abilities to stop every attack. Whether that's possible or not, I'm not sure, but I know we're going to give 110% to stop anything that goes towards Mathew's (Ryan) goal. Think how contagious it can get. Not for us, but for five or six year olds who want to start playing football. That's what motivates me. That's what I would like to see. Why not us ? Leicester won the Premier League, Croatia reached the final of the last World Cup. There is always this story that pleases the whole world. This story where everyone says, “our country is knocked out, so let's support these guys because they're the underdogs.” I think it will be a great story. One day, thinking about it, you could even write a book about it: you end up getting to a World Cup final and winning it. It would be the greatest story in the world.”.

A willingness to believe in the feat and a confidence in his team that defender Harry Soutra shares. “We just need to seize the moment, seize the opportunity. Nobody expects us to win. So let's shock the world! » Ditto for Leckie. “It's a 90 minute game, maybe 120, and it's a knockout game. Since no one expected us to be here, we're going to give it our all. There is no real pressure for us. We've met some great players and I think as long as we're a collective group, like we've been so far, we can harness their strengths, keep them from being dangerous and that's what we'll try to do”. For his part, coach Graham was more offensive, even giving the keys to success for his team. “Jump to their g… Don't give them time to breathe.” That's what we did against Denmark. If you prevent them from having the ball, then there is no passing, no penetration. Preventing their main players from having the ball is going to be crucial. If you focus too much on Messi, you forget the other players. Poland focused too much on Messi. It's not just about stopping Messi. There are also very good players in this team. Like I told the boys, you don't often get those opportunities in life, so what are you going to do when they come? Are you just going to let it go or are you going to do something more? When you are at home, you have time to rest and think about and remember things. But it is now. It's real. »

An audience to conquer in the country

Winning to afford a prestigious success, reaching the quarter-finals for the first time in its history, but not only. In Australia, football is far from being the king sport. Traditionally, the 25 million inhabitants prefer the AFL (Australian rules football), rugby and cricket. The Socceroos match against Tunisia, for example, was watched by 1.7 million viewers, or 6.8% of the local population. By way of comparison, the Blues gathered nearly 18% of the French population during their matches against Australia and Denmark. As you will have understood, one of the objectives of the national team is therefore also to succeed in attracting more and more Australians and to make a little more room for traditional football. And if for us, the audience mentioned above is unspectacular, Graham Arnold does not have the same vision.

“Seeing some of the reactions again in Melbourne's Federation Square at the Sackville Hotel, seeing the Australian public…I know I keep saying this, but I've always said there's only one thing that unites a nation in sport is football in Australia and the Socceroos. There was the Rugby World Cup, was Federation Square like that? Were ads like that? (…) If you are not Australian and you do not know it, football in Australia is probably the fourth or fifth most popular sport after the AFL, rugby league, rugby union, cricket , and then there's football… they call it soccer. Getting to leave a legacy is huge. » This is to say the immense challenge that awaits the Australians this Saturday…

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