The Socceroos play an important part at this World Cup. They have allowed Scottish football fans to live the competition vicariously through the gold shirts and green shorts. Ten of Graham Arnold’s squad are current or former SPFL stars. It would have been 11 if not for an injury to Hibs’ Martin Boyle. When the squad was announced there was healthy debate as to where Australia would finish in the Scottish Premiership. Top six was suggested. Twenty four days on, they are in the top 16 of the world, preparing to meet one of the pre-tournament favourites.
Key to the team’s success, with wins over Tunisia and Denmark, are three individuals plying their trade in the Scottish top-flight. Any Hearts fan or club official watching Kye Rowles will have done so with pound signs bulging from the eyes. Plenty of focus has been on the man-mountain Harry Souttar but Rowles has been the perfect partner. Quick, alert and aware, the 24-year-old is a fantastic reader of the game, he uses his body so well and can turn swiftly. Just ask Kylian Mbappe, who was thwarted by one of the best tackles of the tournament.
Rowles will relish the prospect of Lionel Messi et al. It will be a challenge which will suit him, the ball being moved on the ground, in quick passages, looking for space in behind. It’s in these situations where the Aussie thrives. Messi will make him twist and turn but he has the elasticity to stay with the pint-sized magician.
Behich and Mooy
It won’t just be Rowles, whose value will have skyrocketed. Messi, everything flows through Messi, will operate in areas where he will come in close contact with Celtic’s Aaron Mooy and Dundee United's Aziz Behich. Both have had their roles at their respective clubs questioned this season but they have, over the course of three games, shown the quality they possess.
Mooy has been Australia’s midfield general. His work off the ball has been key, no player in the Australia team has won the ball back more often. Against Argentina that defensive side will be so important. His experience and presence will be vital in protecting the defence and marshalling the No.10 when he drops into deeper areas.
When he drifts right, it will be Behich's turn. United fans have seen the very best of their defender and parts of the worst, including a very messy first-half against Denmark and getting beaten at the back post against France. But he has proven himself to be tenacious, industrious and a very astute ball carrier, getting the team up the pitch. He’ll likely have to face both Messi and Angel Di Maria at points. You could forgive a sleepless night.
In fact, you could forgive the whole squad a sleepless night. Not out of fear but excitement. They have inspired a nation back home and captivated one in Scotland. The story will be Messi but they are a famous 90 minutes away from making it all about them.