‘Messages, phone calls, everybody wants to know!’ The Argentinian A-Leagues legends hounded for Aussie intel

It began the moment Australia and Argentina were confirmed to meet in the FIFA Men’s World Cup Round of 16: the bombardment of Isuzu UTE A-League greats Marcelo Carrusca and Marcos Flores, with phone calls and messages aplenty seeking inside information on the strengths and weaknesses of the Socceroos.

The Argentinian duo and former stars of the A-League Men both admit there’s been an “unbelievable” reaction to the knockout draw from back home, and the subsequent inquiries for intel on the Socceroos has been a wearying experience to endure.

The world No.3 nation came into the tournament as one of the clear favourites to emerge as world champions – but it appears the Argentinians are willing to take no chances by underestimating a green and gold hurdle in the Round of 16.

The reaction has been unbelievable, to be honest,” said Carrusca, joining Flores and KEEPUP’s James Dodd to discuss the Argentina-Australia matchup.

“Since everybody found out we’re going to play against Australia, I started receiving messages, phone calls, everybody now wants to know what happens in this part of the world, what players they need to look at, all the information they can get from Australian national team. 

“It’s been a very busy couple of days.”

Flores expressed his delight in not being alone in receiving the barrage of inquiries from his home country. “I’m happy ‘Chelo’ is living the same thing, because I was getting absolutely crazy, I was thinking there should be more Argentinians to share the load. 

“We wanted to live like a soccer fan! it’s good to share information – but it’s repeating over, and over, and over the same thoughts is what makes you tired.”

But for all the tactical information Argentinians might seek, for all the inside knowledge on star players, style of play and form throughout the World Cup to date which those supporting Argentina hope to pry from the two A-Leagues legends, Flores says it’s Australia’s underdog status – and head coach Graham Arnold’s ability to use that status as a genuine motivator within the camp – which could cause the elite footballing nation the most trouble when the Round of 16 clash kicks off on Sunday morning (AEDT).

“It’s convenient for Australia, for the mindset of the head coach Graham Arnold. He likes that. He likes to be the underdog. The Argentinian football nation, we know that from 10 games Argentina should be winning nine. Australia have this one game that could be the day, you know? 

“It’s going to be tense. Knowing how Graham Arnold likes to play, it’s the perfect scenario because he doesn’t have to hide any secret here. If he doesn’t play that defensive mindset he will lose. He knows now his style of soccer is needed.”

But if the underdog status is set to help Australia, will the tag of hefty favourites be of detriment to Argentina? Carrusca, formerly of Adelaide United, Melbourne City and Western Sydney Wanderers, and 2011 Johnny Warren Medallist Flores believe it won’t; perhaps it would have been in a world where Argentina weren’t coming into this contest with the 2021 Copa America title in the trophy cabinet.

But Carrusca and Flores say that historic day in July, 2021, where Messi and co. held the Copa America trophy aloft after defeating Brazil inside their bitter rival’s Maracanã Stadium, helped banish Argentina’s significant demons and take pressure off the shoulders of the players – particularly Messi – heading into this tournament. 

Flores takes Argentina’s group stage clash with Poland as the perfect example of pressure lifting on Argentina: “I would like to ask Chelo, if you Chelo saw when Messi missed the penalty (against Poland), how the 30,000 or 40,000 that were there, were supporting him. That is not normal. 

“And you know, when you’ve been on the field it doesn’t matter how much the fans like you, when you miss a penalty you can hear (taunting). I felt that day straight away, that was 40,00 people yelling: ‘Messi!, Messi!’ 

“It was an amazing reaction from the fans.

Carrusca replied: “Yeah, after the Copa America I think everything changed in regards to Messi – and even (Angel) Di Maria. The fans were always critical with them, and after they achieved the Copa America, a massive achievement for Argentina, everything started to changed – and I’m glad that happened to them because they’re amazing players and good people as well.”

Carrusca added: “I don’t think (Messi) feels the pressure,” Carrusca said. “He knows everyone in Argentina, every Argentinian wants to win the World Cup because of him. One of the big reasons I have the same mentality, or the same thought… is because of him. We know it’s going to be (his) last World Cup and everyone wants to see him happy lifting the trophy.”

It’s a trophy which has eluded Messi through his illustrious career; one he went so close to lifting in 2014 via extra-time defeat to Germany in the final.

Should Argentina go on to win the tournament, Messi will match Diego Maradona on World Cup win, following the legendary football figure’s own triumph in 1986.

Carrusca and Flores couldn’t end their pre-game conversation without putting their own opinion into the enduring debate: Maradona or Messi?

“I grew up watching Maradona, he’s been my idol since I was very very little,” Carrusca said. “I tried to copy him all the time, tried to be a bit like him when I was growing up. After Messi came (into) the picture, we love Messi, adore Messi, he’s another idol we have in Argentina.

“I guess as a fan, I want to win the World Cup because of those two people as well, that did a lot for this country.”

Flores replied: “In my opinion Messi is a better player than Maradona – but Maradona makes us feel differently, and you can’t forget how people make you feel. It doesn’t matter if technically for me Messi is better than Maradona, because he developed in Europe his left and right side, he’s precise, he’s scored more goals than Maradona.. but Maradona, like Chelo did, he was revolutionary, he was a guy from a low class, not middle class, achieving the top of the world. Being called by presidents, by superstars, everyone wanted to be like him. That is something we’ll never forget. 

“Messi is actually amazing as well, but that difference of how a player makes you feel is really subjective. It doesn’t matter if Messi wins three World Cups, we’ll love Maradona. If Messi doesn’t win the World Cup, for me he’s (still) the better player football-wise.”