After an unexpected World Cup round of 16 seeding, Australia want another kick to the table: bringing Argentina home to Lionel Messi.
“There is no pressure on us,” striker Matthew Leckie told a news conference at the Aspire Academy training center on Thursday. “We just need to enjoy the moment and enjoy the occasion. And as I said, nobody expects us to win. So let’s surprise the world.”
For the second time in their history, the Australians entered the top 16 of the World Cup after beating Denmark 1-0 in a division that ended with France leading the Kings. It was the only precedent for the Australians in the round of 16 in 2006.
On Saturday, they will play at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium against the two-time world champion (1978 and 1986), with Lionel Messi determined to win the only title he lacks in the World Cup for the fifth time.
“He’s the most talented player I’ve ever seen with a ball at his feet. He does things no one else can do,” said Leckie, of his Melbourne City native. But “as long as we remain as united as we have been until now, we can stop them, stop their power, stop them from being dangerous. And that is what we will try to do.”
Defender Milos Degenek predicted “a tough game, obviously playing against the best footballer who has appeared in this game. (But) it’s eleven against eleven. There’s no Messi’s eleven. There’s one.”
When asked if he considered it a privilege to face the Paris Saint-Germain superstar, MLS footballer Columbus Crew replied, “No.”
“He’s just human, like all of us… It’s such an honor to be in the last 16 of the World Cup. That’s an honor in itself,” he said.
While history puts Argentina as heavy favorites next Saturday, Australia will try to raise the level it left behind 16 years ago when it lost to defending champions Italy in the Round of 16.
“I think they are clearly motivated by what could be Messi’s last World Cup and he wants to win it. For us, it’s to prevent that… I’m a huge fan of him, but I would like to win the World Cup maybe more than him,” concluded Degenek.
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