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.
With memories like these, little wonder Zadkovich is a big supporter of the under-age national teams such as the Olyroos, which he says are pivotal to our game’s development by going on to Socceroo level.
Zadkovich, who retired due to injury and is now a successful coach of NPL outfit Broadmeadow Magic, is at 32 one of the bright new talents outside the A-League.
Well-spoken and engaging, the former A-League championship winner, Olyroo and Socceroo is utilizing the highs and lows of an international and club career in Australia and England to help formulate his coaching beliefs and philosophy of man management.
And there’s no doubt one of his highs was Beijing 2008.
Lining up against the eventual gold medal winners Argentina, marking both their wingers; one already a Barcelona star and the other a future Manchester City and English Premier League great.
But not just that. To score at the Olympics against a powerful European nation after an epic qualification campaign across Asia.
With the latest Olyroos group set for their qualification group showdown against the Korea Republic tonight in Cambodia, we sat down with Zadkovich to reminisce on the last time the Olyroos were on the world stage and what it meant for him and the nation.
Ruben, you’re at the Olympics, you’re on the right side of Australia’s defence and you can see Messi ahead of you and Aguero on the other wing… what’s going through your mind?
I remember it wasn’t just Messi and Aguero. There was Angel Di Maria, now at PSG, Juan Riquelme, Mascherano who went on to play for Barca and Liverpool, Gabriel Heinze, they were all starting.
And the most amazing memory is that we were in it. For a long part of the game we were in it, but they scored late.
I remember the performances of Mark Milligan marking Riquelme, and just getting in the battle and the grind with him. And not giving him an inch. Then was Mascherano and Stuey Musalik fighting it out in midfield.
And Messi and Aguero were playing on both wings and I was right full back. So it was Messi then Aguero, Messi then Aguero.
I remember that feeling of being “with them”. They were a class above but just on the pure fight on effort and being in that battle with them.
It was such a good, good feeling.
How did you handle Messi and Aguero?
They were quick with the ball at feet, and close control. It sounds so silly even talking about playing against Messi as if anyone has any idea of it, but back then it was just the simple things: you know Messi is quick and left-footed, so show him onto his right and maybe funnel him into traffic inside but even still his ability to change direction and speed was phenomenal.
I was quite sharp back then and fit, probably the team’s fittest, and had a big hunger and appetite for the game and that feeling of not giving this guy an inch, and if it’s there to be won, I’ll win it. Don’t leave him on his left foot, block shots, block crosses, just the old adage don’t let him exploit space in behind.
But he just was one of those who you felt you had him, then in the next minute he was over on the right wing and now you have to handle this guy called Aguero, that you haven’t heard of.
And he’s as good if not better at the time than Messi.