The Socceroos will clash with Denmark tonight in what will be a crucial game for Australia at the Samara Arena, tonight. AAP sports journalist Ben McKay is at the heart of all the action. Read on as he shares his insights into some of the players who have, through great individual achievement taken the Socceroos to their fourth consecutive World Cup.
The great privilege of covering football for Australian Associated Press is telling the stories of players. Great stories can come from the A-League or W-League, but higher stakes of the national team can often unearth pieces of amazing achievement. Some of the best have come from the Socceroos, playing at their fourth straight World Cup this month in Russia.
That’s no mean feat. Only 12 countries have managed that. Not Italy, the country that Australia owes so much of its football heritage to. Not Croatia, likewise. Not the United States, the recently-announced host of the 2026 World Cup. And not the Netherlands, which has supplied coaches that have taken the Socceroos to three of those four World Cups. Maybe we should offer them our coaches.
Underpinning the Australian story are many tales of individual achievement. Tim Cahill is the one that stands out. In Russia, Cahill will appear at his fourth World Cup. If he scores, as a 38-year-old, he’ll count Pele as a contemporary, joining a three-man club of players to have scored at four World Cups. Not bad for a humble Sydneysider that first represented Samoa, and needed to overcome international red tape before making his Socceroos debut at age 24.
Beyond the superstars, there are so many more stories worth telling.
Take Andrew Nabbout. Not someone many Australians would have heard of. I first interviewed Andrew in my first weeks in the job back in 2013. Then, he was a Melbourne Victory player that could barely get a look in. More experienced players held down his position on the wing. When he left Victory, no other A-League club was interested. He found a gig playing in the Malaysian second division if you can believe that, where his weight of goalscoring forced local clubs to take another look. Newcastle Jets took him on, and after two goal-laden years in Australia, he earned a move to one of the biggest clubs in Japan and started up front for the Socceroos against France.
And what about Brad Jones. The Western Australian has always had talent, but never quite cracked it to become the Australian goalkeeper. In 2010, he was selected as part of the World Cup campaign but withdrew when his child was diagnosed with Leukaemia. After time out of the game to deal with that tragedy, he’s gone on to win trophies at club level in the Netherlands. Now he’s going to a World Cup for the first time at 36.
His goalkeeping rival Danny Vukovic is another one. Ten years ago, he lashed out at a referee and served a nine-month ban - the longest punishment in the A-League’s history. He battled back and became one of Australia’s best local goalkeepers. He has heartbreak in his story too, switching clubs to be closer to his child as he received a life-saving liver transplant. Young Harley’s recovery allowed Vukovic to move to Belgium, where he’s established himself as a part of the national team.
Then there’s Robbie Kruse, Trent Sainsbury and Tom Rogic. All three are some of the finest Australian talents of their generation. Yet they hadn’t played at a World Cup due to injuries suffered in the lead-up to the Brazil tournament four years ago. Who knows how Ange Postecoglou’s side would have performed in 2014 with them. There will be no what ifs in 2018. All three are fit and are desperate to show they belong on the biggest stage in sport.
As an Australian Associated Press journalist, it’s been my privilege covering the Socceroos as they’ve strived to return to the World Cup. No country in the history of the tournament has endured a longer qualification route. It's taken Australia 22 matches, in 12 different countries, over more than two years, to finally lock in a place at Russia. AAP was at every qualifying match on the way, showing its commitment to the Socceroos. And we’re in Russia, telling the stories of Tim Cahill, Andrew Nabbout, Brad Jones, Danny Vukovic, Robbie Kruse, Trent Sainsbury, Tom Rogic and the other 16 Socceroos that are representing Australia.
Ben McKay is a sports journalist with AAP and is currently in Russia covering the 2018 FIFA World Cup.