IN­SIDE A-LEAGUE

Inside Sport - - EDITOR'S LETTER - BY FOX SPORTS’ SI­MON HILL

Any­one who be­lieves that qual­i­fy­ing for the World Cup through Asia is a cake­walk should take a look at the Soc­ceroos’ pass­port stamps from the last two years. Theirs is a jour­ney that would make even the most ded­i­cated trav­eller wince.

Start­ing in the for­mer Soviet re­pub­lic of Kyr­gyzs­tan on a pitch with more bumps than a re­tired boxer’s nose, it con­tin­ued on an ar­ti­fi­cial pitch in Ta­jik­istan, just days a­er an in­sur­gency killed ten peo­ple, mean­ing height­ened se­cu­rity for the play­ers and staff.

Al­though the next ex­cur­sion – to Jor­dan – was un­event­ful (save for the 2-0 loss), the trip to Dhaka for the heat and hu­mid­ity of Bangladesh couldn’t have been much fun, not least be­cause the visit echoed the trip to Dushanbe (in Ta­jik­istan), with a wave of ter­ror­ist a‹acks, lead­ing to what was la­belled “un­prece­dented se­cu­rity” for the visit of Ange Postecoglou’s team.

Things haven’t got much eas­ier in the fi­nal phase of qual­i­fy­ing, ei­ther. The away game in the United Arab Emi­rates took place in tem­per­a­tures over 40 de­grees, and it wasn’t much cooler in Saudi Ara­bia, where 50,000 hos­tile lo­cals made it an un­com­fort­able night for the ’Roos. Think the worst was over? Not by a long­shot. Next was Thai­land. Le­ so bere­ by the death of its beloved King, the coun­try had re­quested the game be changed to a neu­tral venue. Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Sin­ga­pore were op­tions; Bangkok’s Ra­ja­man­gala Sta­dium was the ul­ti­mate se­lec­tion, with lim­i­ta­tions placed on fan be­hav­iour.

The next away fix­ture? Iraq, which can’t play home games in Baghdad due to the on­go­ing chaos in that part of the world. So the Soc­ceroos will re­turn to Iran for the first time since 1997.

The fi­nal away game will be in the rel­a­tive com­fort of Ja­pan in late Au­gust – but Aus­tralia’s Asian Cup suc­cess in 2015 means this fix­ture brings its own prob­lems. The re­gional ti­tle has earned the ’Roos a crack at the FIFA Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup, to be held in Russia. Should Aus­tralia reach the later stages of that com­pe­ti­tion, the play­ers’ sea­sons will ex­tend into early July – not much time to rest be­fore the merry-go-round of club and in­ter­na­tional foot­ball swings into ac­tion once again.

As part of the Fox Sports team, we are priv­i­leged enough to share most of those jour­neys with the Soc­ceroos, as they fly the flag in these far-flung des­ti­na­tions. O­en, the play­ers (due to their club com­mit­ments) only ar­rive a day or two be­fore a game. Train­ing ses­sions are there­fore lim­ited, con­di­tions o­en hos­tile (both cli­matic and cul­tural), and for home games it’s some­times even worse, with many Euro­pean-based Soc­ceroos hav­ing to cope with jet lag, all be­fore they kick a ball in anger on home soil.

So it’s to its credit that this li‹le band of weary Aussie am­bas­sadors is look­ing good to qual­ify for what would be their tenth ma­jor tour­na­ment since the game un­der­went sig­nif­i­cant re­con­sti­tu­tion here in 2004 (two Con­fed­er­a­tions Cups, three Asian Cups – one as host – an Olympics and, with a bit of luck, a fourth con­sec­u­tive World Cup.)

By my rough es­ti­mate, by the time Aus­tralia plays its last game in this fi­nal round of Asian qual­i­fy­ing, a Euro­pean-based Soc­ceroo will have clocked up 187,598km in an aero­plane. That is equiv­a­lent to go­ing around the cir­cum­fer­ence of the planet four and a half times. All that just to qual­ify – a­er which, the hard work re­ally starts!

Easy? I’d ar­gue they have the tough­est gig of any Aus­tralian ath­lete, and they com­pete in a sport which has 200-plus com­peti­tors, most of which plough many more funds into their representative teams than here.

So, if Aus­tralia one day man­ages to win the World Cup, would it be the na­tion’s great­est sport­ing achieve­ment? If not, I’d like to meet the team or in­di­vid­ual that could point to a truer test of be­ing a world cham­pion.

In Saudi Ara­bia, 50,000 hos­tile lo­cals made it an un­com­fort­able night for the ’Roos.

Soc­ceroo Tomi Juric flies high against UAE in Abu Dhabi in Septem­ber.

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