Amman: There are some things that make Massimo Luongo uncomfortable. Seeing his name beneath Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on the list of Balon d’Or nominees is one of them. Though fortunately for Australian football fans, the target firmly placed on the backs of the Socceroos is not one of them.
Just 10 years after entering the confederation, Australia’s players believe they have become the team every nation wants to beat after winning the Asian Cup on home soil in January. Despite drawing a relatively easy group on paper for their first stage of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, the away fixtures have proven far more difficult than the form guide suggests. Already trips to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan required a more laborious performance against nations lining up to be king makers in toppling the champions.
Ahead of what is surely their most difficult fixture of the stage – away to Jordan in the intimidating venue of Amman – Luongo says Australia must be on guard.
“Of course especially after us being Asian Champions. It’s like the Premier league when you verse Chelsea, everyone is up for the game because they won it the year before, everyone wants to stick it to them,” Luongo said. “I think we’ve got that identity now after winning the Asian Cup, everyone wants to prove themselves against us to see if they can get one over us which is good for us. We don’t want to come here and get easy games because it won’t benefit us if we do qualify.”
The QPR midfielder was under no illusions of Australia’s position in the crosshairs of all rivals, particularly when away from home but was still struggling to come to terms with his nomination for the Ballon d’Or. The shortlist for the best player in the world included Luongo as a result of his Asian Cup performance where he was named the player of the tournament. Though, the man who spent half of this year in the third tier of English football initially thought his nomination was a prank.
The 23-year-old found out via social media that his name was listed as one of the 50 candidates for the biggest individual prize in the game.
“I just found out from people, on Twitter, social media and from mates. I thought it was somebody trying to be funny or something. I haven’t got anything to say really. It’s a big honour, not many people get on there, I can say I’ve been on the Balon d’Or list,” Luongo said.
Despite his increased stature with that nomination, Luongo says he is no certainty to start for Australia on Friday morning AEDT given the impressive depth and competition for places that is making for intense training sessions.
“It’s a good thing isn’t it? To be fair in training it brings the sessions up as well. Especially the way we’re training and the drills we’re doing it sort of brings everyone’s strengths. If anything – if you don’t play – you’re coming out a better player because of the standards of the sessions,” he said.
© 2015 The Age | This article was written by Dominic Bossi and first originally appeared in The Age on 5 October 2015.