Former Olyroo Ruben Zadkovich marked both Messi and Aguero at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Adding to an unforgettable Games, the Aussie scored against Dusan Tadic’s Serbia.
Then Di Maria is floating around.
It was really surreal. Particularly so now with the context of how good those players have become.
I don’t say to people I’ve marked the best player in the world, because at the time he wasn’t but he’s gone on to become a world best talent which goes to show whilst you have dreams and odds are often stacked against you, you’re maybe not as far away as you think coming from Australia.
That’s why again, reaching those tournaments and playing against the calibre of those players. Nothing on a training pitch or here in Australia can replicate playing against a Riquelme, Messi, Mascherano, Di Maria, Aguero, Heinze.
You can’t replicate that, let alone in a do-or-die tournament with a top coach like Graham Arnold
You also played - and scored - against Dusan Tadic’s Serbia. This month, Tadic was only the ninth player to receive a 10/10 rating from L'Equipe after he helped destroy Real Madrid in the Champions League with his club Ajax Amsterdam…
I remember his face rather than his name. Back then he wasn’t a name like he is now in 2019. I remember being around him at corners but really, I remember the quality of their whole side. Serbia and Argentina were just world class.
The goal you scored against Serbia, what do you remember?
It was a typical Arnie ploy.
He picked me to play right wing against Serbia because I’d have the legs to counter and get in behind. He said, ‘this is the day you’ll score’. And I didn’t score many for the Olyroos, I did a lot of the dog work with the fight and determination and covering ground as a wingback.
But he played me up high, and he knew I could score. I remember he filled me with a lot of confidence leading up that game.
And sure enough, he even said can you ghost off the shoulder of that left full back when the ball’s on the other side and arrive at the back stick and get your rewards.
And sure enough, Carney broke through down our left, crossed it low and the ball dribbled across their goal and their defender was caught a little ball watching and I was there on his blind shoulder and there I was, ‘bang’ to tap home from an acute angle with about half a yard to aim at.
And then it was surreal. Turning around and there weren’t many Australians in the stadium and they were on the other side of the stadium, but you’re looking up to the big screen at yourself in the green and gold scoring at the Olympics.
It was an amazing feeling, especially for me who doesn’t score many.
Being an Olympian is pretty rare, as Arnie has pointed out…
Yeah, and it was literally like living your dream. As a kid, you dream of wearing the green and gold or being a professional footballer.
I look back at that time with such amazing memories. I had all my family there. Most of the players did have their families there and it was a typical Graham Arnold team, where he created a really good environment.
I’ve got such beautiful memories of that whole trip.
Being in the Australian Olympic family meant you also had Steve Waugh as a mentor?
Yes, just getting his feedback when he'd take you aside and give you advice. He'd talk about mentality and composure under pressure. We all had time with Steve, in the lead-up and in the Games Village, and he just has this air of calm about him, no matter what the situation.
I had a few individual conversations with him, they were interesting because he often talked about mentality, body language, and leadership. I wasn't a captain at the time he was always saying to me you don't have to wear the armband to be a leader.
And he said mentality and body language can be infectious around the team. Those conversations stick with me as do the quality staff we had at the time, and players. It was an outstanding group.