Australia’s plan to foil Lionel Messi did not come off, but Garang Kuol believes the Socceroos showed in this World Cup campaign they can compete with the best around.
After losing their opening game to France, Australia responded with back-to-back 1-0 wins over Tunisia and Denmark, reaching a last-16 tie against Argentina.
Graham Arnold’s side threatened an upset on Saturday, too, but eventually went down 2-1 after Messi inspired La Albiceleste to victory.
Socceroos coach Arnold said of Messi, who scored the opener: “Look, he’s incredible, one of the greatest ever.
“We worked really hard to not be in awe of him, because of the great player he is, but he’s remarkable.
“I had the privilege of playing against Diego Maradona and now of coaching against Lionel Messi on a few occasions.
“They’re both wonderful players and Argentina should be so proud and happy they’ve produced players of that calibre.”
Teenage winger Kuol, who at 18 became the youngest player to feature in a World Cup knockout match since Pele, could have netted a late leveller, only for Emiliano Martinez to block well.
“I was telling myself that I’d come on and score a goal, and Arnie was telling me to come on and do the same thing,” Kuol said. “We had the same expectation.
“When I wasn’t able to score, I was very disappointed, but we move on.
“I didn’t really see much of it. I just turned around and tried to shoot. It was only when I saw the replay I could see the keeper rushed out. It’s just a learning curve.”
18 – Aged 18 years and 79 days, Garang Kuol is the youngest player to play in the knockout stages of the World Cup since Pelé in 1958 (17 years, 249 days). Double-take.
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan)
Although Australia came up short against both France and Argentina, Kuol felt their performances were evident of a narrowing gap between the Socceroos and their elite opponents.
“Yeah, 100 per cent,” he said. “People think the people in Europe can fly or something, but we’re all humans, we’ve all got two feet. It’s all just about the passion and the heart.”
Whether Arnold is the man to lead Australia into future meetings with Argentina and Co. remains to be seen.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” he said. “My contract is up and I just want to go away, have a good holiday, have a break and see what happens.
“I’ve worked extremely hard throughout this campaign, I did the Olympic team for nothing just to help these players come through.
“I need a break and a rest, then I’m sure I’ll have good discussions with the federation.”