Coach Graham Arnold wants his Socceroos to get in the face of Lionel Messi, but not dwell on the Argentinian ace for too long.
The masterful Messi looms large for the unheralded Australians in their knockout battle with Argentina at the World Cup in Qatar on Saturday night (0600 AEDT Sunday).
“The thing is, if you focus too much on Messi, then you’re forgetting about the other players,” Arnold told reporters.
“And if you watched the game, I think Poland focused too much on Messi.
“Whoever is playing, pick him up. It can’t be just one, it can be five (players). But it’s not just about stopping him. They have got some very good players.”
The Socceroos enter the fixture at Doha’s Ahmad bin Ali Stadium as rank outsiders to halt Messi’s bid to capture an elusive World Cup.
The Australians are into the round of 16 for just the second time, following the 2006 Socceroos who fell to Italy 1-0 after a contentious stoppage time penalty.
Under Arnold, the Aussies have won two games at a World Cup finals for the first time; ditto for two consecutive clean sheets.
And Arnold said his advancing Australians were getting greedy. “We want more,” he said.
“This is a dream come true, playing against Lionel Messi in a World Cup. I don’t think anyone expected us to even win a game. And then to win two in one World Cup, it’s amazing.
“But as I said to the boys, you don’t get these opportunities often in life. So what are you going to do about it? Are you just going to let it ride? Or are you going to do something more and special. It’s the Aussie DNA: keep going.”
Arnold was blunt when asked just how Australia, ranked 38th in the world, could upset the world No.3 Argentinians.
“Get in their faces. Don’t give them time,” he said. “Stopping their main players from getting on the ball is going to be crucial.”
Which leads Arnold back to Messi, the 35-year-old who has won world football’s most prestigious individual award, the Ballon d’Or, a record seven times.
Arnold himself crossed paths on-field with another acclaimed Argentinian legend, Diego Maradona, during their playing days.
Who’s best, Messi or Maradona? “Ahh, mate,” Arnold said. “Let’s just say both. It’s just so crazy how similar they are, left footers and the same style of players, and they’re both incredible players.
“To compare different generations is all too hard … they go down as two of the greatest players ever in my lifetime.”
Meanwhile, Arnold is demanding honesty from his Socceroos: Who is knackered? Who’s sore? Who can go again?
“I have got to see … which ones are stiff or have knocks and can’t recover,” said the coach.
“It’s going to be an honesty conversation from myself to the players. I know every one of those players want to start.
“But it’s not about them. It’s about the team and the nation. They’ve got to be honest back.
“I sit down pretty much always with the individual to see how he is personally and if there is a player that says, ‘look, I feel like I can’t start,’ they have got to be honest. Let us make those changes and they may come on for the last half-hour. Instead of starting you can come on and finish a game for us and run it out.”
The Socceroos will play a fourth game in 12 days in the Doha heat, striving to become the first Australian team to advance to the quarter-finals at a World Cup and they meet the might of Argentina with just two days rest after their last game, the same as Lionel Messi’s team.
“A quick turnaround is good because we are straight-bang straight back into it which is fantastic,” Arnold said. “That is the way it is. It’s not just for one team, it’s for all teams. So let’s not use that as an excuse.”