Australian midfielder Aiden O’Neill will have to put his A-League Grand Final heartbreak to the back of his mind if he wants to impress in this week’s friendly match with World Champions Argentina.
Although the former Burnley player has been a regular squad member for Melbourne City ever since joining on a three-year contract in 2020, O’Neill, alongside fellow Socceroo Tom Glover, has moved on from this year’s A-League runners-up with eyes set on new opportunities.
With fellow Melbourne City players Jordan Bos, Tom Glover, Matthew Leckie, and Jamie Maclaren named in Graham Arnold’s 23-man squad, O’Neill won’t be the only Socceroo to be looking to put the pain of this year’s Grand Final defeat to bed and turn his focus to the National side.
“There’s a few of us here and I think we have really moved on, in football you have to move on quickly”, O’Neill said.
“We’ll all be really excited to get back out on the field and put that to bed and look forward, you got to do that in life and football as well.
“It was very disappointing to end the season like that, we’ve been the best team for three years in a row, so I’m not sure what went wrong.”
Despite previously playing in the English Premier League, as well as experience in England League One division with Oldham Athletic and Fleetwood Town, O’Neill only made his national debut in March in against Ecuador.
After narrowly missing out on a call-up to last year’s World Cup in Qatar, O’Neill has been given another opportunity since impressing in both matches against Ecuador earlier in the year.
This time around O’Neill is looking to give everything he has against some of the world’s best players and to be a mainstay in the side going forward.
“Football can move very, very fast, you work hard all your life. I was very fortunate and lots of hard work to get that first opportunity,” he said.
“Now I’ve got another one I’ll be giving everything to do my absolute best.
“It’s very exciting to be playing top players and testing yourself against people that are playing in the best leagues in the world, that’s what we dream of doing as kids.”
Like the majority of Aussies, O’Neill was sat at home when Australia narrowly succumb to defeat against Argentina at last year’s World Cup but applauded the way the side performed in the match.
“I was watching the game at home, an unbelievable atmosphere and I think the boys did really well against a top team, against players that are playing in the top leagues and of course, one of the best footballers, if not the best in Messi,” he said.
Similarly to the way he went about playing Premier League matches, O’Neill won’t be looking to alter his pre-game preparations going into last year’s World Cup Round of 16 rematch.
“I don’t think I’ve ever altered my game in football, I’ll be approaching it the same way I approach every game,” he stated.
“Yeah, there might be some bigger names in the game, but I made my debut in the Premier League, I played against some very big names there and I didn’t change the way I went about it.”
Although there has been a large turnout of supporters in China to see the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, O’Neill believes there’s also a fair amount of excitement amongst fans to see Australia as well.
“Everyone loves Messi, you can see the energy here,” he said.
“I think also they’re really excited that we’re here as well. When we’re getting on the bus, there’s loads of fans outside the hotel waiting for us.
“I think it’s gonna be really exciting.”
Being a midfielder, O’Neill has had to come face-to-face with some of the greats of the game and will likely do so again this Thursday when he comes up against Argentinian and Chelsea FC midfielder Enzo Fernández, but states the way he goes about the game won’t change.
“I don’t think I’ll do a number on anyone, but if there’s a 50/50 tackle or whatever, I don’t think I’m the type of person to think ‘oh, you know, I’m gonna pull out of this,” he admitted.
“Whether it’s McAllister or Messi, I’ll be doing what I do, just playing with a smile and having fun and taking it as it comes.”
O’Neill and the Socceroos take on World Champions Argentina this Thursday Night at Beijing’s Workers Stadium.
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