Aziz Behich lifts the lid on altercation with Lionel Messi at World Cup

Pictured here, Socceroos defender Aziz Behich and Argentina forward Lionel Messi in a scuffle during the World Cup round of 16 clash.
Socceroos defender Aziz Behich and Argentina forward Lionel Messi were involved in a fiery scuffle during the World Cup round of 16 clash. Pic: Getty

Socceroos defender Aziz Behich has revealed the truth behind his fiery run-in with Argentina superstar Lionel Messi, during Australia's heartbreaking 2-1 defeat in the World Cup round of 16 clash. Behich was a standout for the Socceroos in defence and attack, where he was desperately close to scoring what may have been the goal of the tournament.

The 31-year-old left back - who plays his club football for Scottish Premiership side Dundee United - was one of the Australian players tasked with the unenviable job of trying to stop the influential Messi from running the show for Argentina. The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner scored Argentina's first goal and looked dangerous throughout, during an impressive display for the Albiceleste.

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In fact, it was shortly after a heated exchange between Behich and Messi that the Argentinian star came to life to fire the South Americans in front. The pair had clashed on the right touchline when the Australian defender barged Messi and grabbed his shirt, before offering him a few choice words.

”He (Messi) pushed me once the ball was out and I’ve always been throughout my career that, when I’m on that pitch I kind of see black,” Behich told reporters in Doha the day after the match. “I don’t see an opponent or a name or anything like that. I’m out there to help my team win and I do whatever I can for that to happen. There’s obviously respect there for the opponent and that, but it’s just a heat of the moment thing.

“It ended up being face-to-face, no words were exchanged, nothing violent or anything like that but one of his teammates tried to tell me not to speak to him or something. But it was nothing to over-exaggerate.... it was jus a heat of the moment thing.”

Moments after the incident, Behich gave away a foul that Messi took quick. After a series of passes between Argentina's players the ball landed at the feet of the Paris Saint-Germain superstar who expertly curled it into the far corner past the reach of Socceroos captain Mat Ryan. The Aussie keeper than had a 'nightmare' moment to forget after having the ball dispossessed when he tried to play the ball out from the back, leaving Julian Alvarez to rifle home Argentina's second goal into an unguarded net.

The Aussies roared back to life in the second half and were given hope when a deflected shot by Socceroos forward Craig Goodwin found the back of the net 13 minutes from time. Behich almost equalised for the Socceroos at the death, in what would have gone down as a World Cup goal for the ages.

The fullback went on an audacious run through Argentina's defence that started about 10 metres inside Argentina's half, beating four defenders in a mazy run into the penalty area before seeing his shot blocked at the last second, courtesy of a superbly timed and desperate slide tackle from Lisandro Martinez.

"It was pretty much like a Harry Souttar tackle but this time it was on us," Behich said. The left-back's run was best described by Socceroos coach Graham Arnold, who insisted: "If Aziz Behich had scored that, it would have been like Lionel Messi in a yellow shirt."

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Behich explained that while running, little was running through his mind. "I just remember getting the ball and one of their players, I think he didn't want to foul me," he said.

"So once I got ahead of him and I started picking up some pace, and I got in the box, I just knew, they just touch me here and anything can happen. But, to be honest with you, the guy that did the slide tackle (Lisandro Martinez), I didn't see him.

"As I have got past the last guy, I actually opened my body and I said 'as long as I hit the target here, it's in'. And looking back at the video, the keeper was actually going the wrong way as well as I have taken the shot. But it was a great tackle."

Teenager Garang Kuol also had a golden chance in the remaining seconds but his shot was superbly saved by Argentinian keeper, Emiliano Martinez. Arnold said he couldn't have been prouder of his troops but couldn't help but lament the Ryan howler that ultimately cost his side dearly.

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold made a blunt admission about Mat Ryan's mistake after the World Cup loss to Argentina. Pic: Getty
Socceroos coach Graham Arnold made a blunt admission about Mat Ryan's mistake after the World Cup loss to Argentina. Pic: Getty

Socceroos coach 'proud' of display against Argentina

"I have to be very proud of the players. You know, we played against the number three in the world. And the first goal from Messi was a quality goal. The (Ryan) mistake cost us," Arnold said. "I just hope that everyone back in Australia really respects what we've done and are proud of us as well. We took it to them."

What comes next for the Socceroos coach remains up in the air, with Arnold's future to be left unresolved for at least a month as Football Australia reviews the World Cup campaign. Arnold's contract ended when the Socceroos were knocked out by Argentina, with the coach set to embark on a well deserved holiday.

Arnold has called for more government funding, focused on junior development, to build on the momentum of the Socceroos' World Cup run. His Socceroos were the first to win two games at a single edition of the World Cup, and the first to keep consecutive clean sheets.

Among other things, Arnold wants to see the construction of a national team headquarters in Australia and an expanded A-League to offer greater opportunity for young footballers to turn professional.

"There's only one thing the A-League needs to do and it's play more football," he said. "They don't play enough, 25, 26 games (in a season) isn't enough, 12 teams isn't enough.

"We need to give kids more opportunity to be professional footballers and play more football. The quality of the A-League ... the boys here have shown, they have come from the A-League and they can match it on the world stage. I'm a firm believer in it. And we have got those young kids coming through, they have got to be ready."

The FIFA World Cup 2022 is on SBS and SBS on Demand.

with agencies

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