Messi carries weight against Australia like Maradona did 30 years ago

In 1993, Diego Maradona led Argentina to a victory against Australia in the most important game the two teams have played so far in their history. 29 years later, fate wanted Lionel Messi to be the one to take responsibility for the World Cup.

Argentina, two times world champion, and an Australia with much fewer scrolls will collide in the round of 16 on Saturday at the Ahmad bin Ali stadium in Doha, in a table that in theory appears quite favorable to the Albiceleste to reach the final of December 18.

In a brief history of seven duels, the most important was carried out at the end of 1993 in the playoffs for the 1994 World Cup. Argentina had not overcome the South American qualifying round after the embarrassing 5-0 defeat that Colombia gave them. Maradona, who had moved away from the team after his first doping, decided to help the team on the journey to Oceania.

With the impulse of the star, Argentina won the first leg and tied the rematch in Buenos Aires, keeping the World Cup ticket.

Almost three decades later and in an even more impressive scenario, captain Messi will seek to become the talisman of a team that started the contest with an unexpected setback against Saudi Arabia, but who, after the victories over Mexico and Poland, once again emerged as a candidate.

“I vividly remember that we didn’t expect to play Argentina in qualifying. They had lost to Colombia… Maradona had retired, he had put on weight. The fans wanted him to come back, he lost a lot of weight in six weeks and he came back, ”recalled Australia coach Graham Arnold, who played that game, during a press conference prior to the round of 16.

“He didn’t influence that much, but it was impossible to get close to him. We tried to kick him and he ran away. It is one of the best memories I have of playing against Maradona”, he assessed.

In Qatar, the “Socceroos” managed for the first time in history to win twice in the same tournament and repeated the feat of Germany 2006 when they finished in the top 16.

“The past is there, but tomorrow (on Saturday) it will be a different match, a knockout. We respect Argentina a lot, (but) we will be eleven against eleven,” said Arnold. “It’s going to be a battle and we’re going to do our best to win.”

Argentina will try not to stumble again with the same stone. Just as a win against the Saudis was taken for granted, now he also carries more obligations than his next rival.

“That the rival is inferior, you have to see it, it’s a good team,” analyzed the Argentine coach Lionel Scaloni. “You have to put aside theoretical favoritism and play a soccer game.”

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“Here you cannot underestimate, you have to play football as well as possible,” he insisted.

The coach invoked prudence after Argentina’s best game so far in the World Cup, with a Messi who knew how to recover from a missed penalty and the freshness brought by youngsters Alexis Mac Allister and Enzo Fernández in midfield and Julián Álvarez in front.

Messi will try to score his first goal in the knockout rounds of a World Cup. He has a total of eight in the first round of five World Cups.

For his part, midfielder Rodrigo De Paul declared that Argentina knew how to capitalize on the defeat in the first match.

“We find ourselves in a situation in which we were not used to, we had not lost for a long time. There you can see the character, what type of group we are… Starting as we did and finishing first, and seeing the reaction of the group, seeing it today I think was positive”, said the Atlético de Madrid player.

Regarding Australia, De Paul analyzed that “they are a very fast team, they have tall center-backs that we don’t have to miss near the box. With extremely fast wingers, it is the card they have coming out against. We have to be very careful in that part of the field so as not to be left in the wrong position”.

Scaloni did not repeat the team in the tournament and it is not clear that he can do so given the muscular overload suffered by winger Ángel Di María. There isn’t a player with the same characteristics on the squad, so if he doesn’t play, the scheme could be changed. The coach did not confirm the team and said that he will test the Juventus player on Thursday in the last formal practice.

One option would be the return to the team of the striker Lautaro Martínez, who was a substitute against Poland, and that Álvarez occupy the position of Di María.

In Australia they do not believe it is impossible to beat Messi’s Argentina to get into an unprecedented quarterfinal.

“We have always been told that we are Cinderella, but everyone is until you end up reaping victories… We love that they saw us as Cinderella, nobody gave a thought that we were going to get here,” Arnold remarked.

“There is no pressure for us,” said forward Mathew Leckie. “We just need to enjoy the moment, enjoy the occasion. And like I said, no one expects us to win. So let’s surprise the world.”

The survivor of this key will face the winner of the Netherlands-United States.


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