The World Cup has hardly been straightforward for Lionel Messi and Argentina thus far, but they are strong favorites ahead of their round of 16 game against Australia.
The Socceroos were a surprise package in the group stages, qualifying for the knockout rounds in Qatar courtesy of 1-0 victories against Tunisia and Denmark.
Argentina, meanwhile, bounced back from a shock opening defeat against Saudi Arabia with 2-0 wins against Mexico and Poland.
Despite having a penalty saved against Poland, Messi has played a crucial role in Argentina’s tournament, scoring twice – including a superb strike against Mexico – and providing one assist.
Defeat Australia – which Argentina has done in all but two of the sides’ previous meetings – and the Netherlands or the United States await in the quarterfinals.
But this World Cup has already thrown up several upsets, as Saudi Arabia demonstrated in its opening game against Argentina. As a result, manager Lionel Scaloni is taking nothing for granted.
“Australia is a good team,” he told reporters on Friday. “This is football, you have to leave theoretical favoritism to the side and play.
“We should adapt ourselves, defensively sometimes we change. Australia has its set ways in attack and it won’t change those.
“We will leave our last drop of sweat on the field in this World Cup, we’re going to compete.”
As for Australia, the challenge of trying to keep a third consecutive clean sheet at the tournament will be a tall order with Messi on the pitch.
“It’s going to be a difficult game, obviously, playing against probably the best footballer ever to grace the game,” defender Milos Degenek said on Friday. “Apart from that, it’s 11 against 11. There are not 11 Messis, there’s one. We know their squad is full of stars.”
A demanding schedule means the teams have had just two days to prepare for Saturday’s game at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan – something Degenek alluded to in his press conference.
“It’s something that FIFA need to consider, that we’re not robots, that we are humans, that we do need to recover, and we can’t just play day after day,” he said. “We need a break as well.”
FIFA did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment regarding the tournament scheduling for Australia and Argentina.
In Saturday’s other game, the Netherlands and the US face each other at the Khalifa International Stadium.
World Cup games on December 3
Netherlands vs USA: 10 a.m. Eastern Time
Argentina vs Australia: 2 p.m. ET
How to watch?
US: Fox Sports
UK: BBC or ITV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC