“Your tears of sadness today will be tears of joy sometime soon.”
Those were the words of former Argentina captain Diego Maradona in November 1993, on an Argentinean TV show, speaking to his Australian counterpart, Paul Wade a day after their game. Argentina had managed to win the two-legged World Cup qualifier tie 2-1 courtesy of an own goal from Alex Tobin in Buenos Aires after a 1-1 tie in Sydney. The defeat denied Australia a ticket to their second World Cup and just hours later captain Wade and assistant coach Raul Blanco were invited on a local TV show, as he recalled with the Sydney Morning Herald recently.
Everyone in the studio, who were used to watching their best football stars lead lavish lifestyles, had been taken aback when the Socceroos captain would share that earned only $5000 a season. Which is when the call came from the biggest footballer of that era, and arguably of all time.
“Maradona was watching and he rang up the TV station, so the floor manager is going nuts, everyone is frazzled,” Wade shared in the recent interview.
“So they put him on and he said: ‘Paul, congratulations to you and your team for the way you played, you pushed us so hard’, and he goes, ‘your tears of sadness today will be tears of joy sometime soon’.”
29 years later, Wade believes it may be time at last for La Albiceleste’s last World Cup winning captain’s words to come true. Against Argentina. At the World Cup.
“If Saudi Arabia can do it, so can we – they are wounded,” he said when the fixture was confirmed. “They are not a 1986 World Cup-winning team. They can be pushed off the ball. I truly believe it.”
Having won back-to-back games for the first time at the World Cup finals, Australia finished second in Group D to qualify for the Round of 16. It was also the first instance of the Socceroos scoring in all three of their group stage games. In the 4-1 defeat to France in their opener, the men in yellow and green opened scoring as Craig Goodwin latched onto a cross from the right to give defending champions the blues.
Post conceding the four goals off Les Bleus, defensive solidity highlighted Australia’s 1-0 wins against Tunisia and Denmark on the back of sustained pressure from the opposition.
The Socceroos have been one of the least attacking teams in the tournament. In all three of their group stage games, Australia have had lesser possession of the ball, lesser shots on goal, and lesser Expected Goals (xG) rate. In fact, Australia’s xG per 90 minutes of 0.58 at this World Cup is only better than Qatar (0.47) and Costa Rica (0.40). They have chosen their moments to move forward, get the goal, and then sit back and deal with the pressure they invite.
The Attack Momentum SofaScore bar graphs for the Australian team in all three group stage games indicate how much pressure they put on their counterparts and vice versa across the length of the game.
A playing style that requires a highly disciplined backline that is able to make clearances and interceptions on a consistent basis. The team in focus ahead of Saturday’s second Round of 16 fixture have made the most clearances (94) and fourth most interceptions (32) so far at the tournament. Australia have also been the team that has made the most blocks, shots and passes, (49) at this World Cup. Six feet five centre-half Harry Souttar has been the centre of attention with 20 clearances, seven blocks and five tackles plus interceptions to his own name.
Given their strength, the match against Argentina on the tactics board seems like one just meant to be. The Lionel Scaloni side is at its best, as evident from the way they played against Poland, when they keep the ball and exchange short vertical passes using the full width of the field. Revisit that Julian Alvarez goal which had 27 neat passes in the buildup, before an inch perfect finish for further affirmation.
Can Australia beat Argentina? They sure don’t start as favorites but as the former Australia skipper mentioned, Saudi Arabia have already gone and done it. The Attack Momentum graph for that game displays an approach Australia aren’t alien to. Scoring goal(s) during short passages of pressure in the opposition half and doing the hard work for the rest of the game by sitting deep and defending tight.
A high defensive line minus high press was an effective maneuver from the Herve Renard coached Saudi side, complemented with an early first half pressing for the two goals. Even though that chink in the armor is something Argentina would anticipate and prepare themselves for, Australia may test it early in the first half.
Historically, Australia need only open the match history against their next opposition to salvage inspiration for the upcoming contest. The first meeting between the two nations at the 1988 Bicentennial Gold Cup tournament in Sydney saw the hosts best the then world champions four goals to one.
“Yes, they had no Maradona on that trip but they had some very high-profile players,” Paul Wade would tell the Herald while speaking of the famous win. “What a night that was. It all came together.”Argentina however, would win five of the subsequent six meetings (one draw) between the two, including that dagger blow 1-0 in the 1994 World Cup qualifier. The most recent of them came in 2007 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. A 1-0 defeat that was Australia’s first sighting of one Lionel Messi.
Before his second meeting with the Socceroos, the now Argentina captain would put forward a fair assessment of the task at hand. “The match against Australia is going to be very difficult.”
A number 10 wearing Argentina captain saying so in 2022 brought back the memories of another one calling a TV studio in 1993.
Maybe the tears of sadness will turn into tears of joy tonight.