World Cup: Huddersfield Town star ready to be cast in underdogs role again with Socceroos

Ready for kick-off: Huddersfield Town's Aaron Mooy in training with Australia. Picture: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images
Ready for kick-off: Huddersfield Town's Aaron Mooy in training with Australia. Picture: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images
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THE smart money is on Australia exiting the World Cup without so much as a point, as happened four years ago.

Not only are the Socceroos ranked 36th in the world by FIFA, the seventh lowest among those competing in Russia.

But the departure of coach Ange Postecoglou, a hugely influential figure, in the immediate aftermath of qualification being assured via the play-offs has also left a big hole that successor Bert van Marwijk is yet to fill.

Throw in the presence of more fancied opponents such as France and Denmark in Group C and it is easy to see why this Australia side is given little chance of emulating their predecessors of 2006 by battling through to the knockout stage.

For Aaron Mooy, widely regarded as his country’s best hope of inspiring a shock this summer, being written off is nothing new.

Since joining Huddersfield Town a couple of summers ago, the quietly-spoken 27-year-old has carved out an enviable reputation as a fine midfielder.

That, though, has not prevented Mooy and his team-mates having their chances of success being dismissed on almost a weekly basis.

Promotion via the play-offs and then last season’s successful fight against relegation certainly proved those doubters wrong and Mooy believes Australia can take inspiration from how the Terriers have so spectacularly upset the odds over those past two years.

“It is a tough group,” he said when speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s opening group game against France in Kazan.

“We are not surprised at that, as the groups are always strong at a World Cup. We are the underdogs but I am used to that from Huddersfield and look what we have achieved there.

“This last season in the Premier League has been all about proving people wrong and now Australia need to do the same.

“We just have to believe in ourselves, like we did at Huddersfield. It can help a team achieve its goals.”

This will be Australia’s fourth consecutive appearance in a World Cup finals and their fifth in all.

Whether their two previous victories in the group stage can be added to remains to be seen but there can be little doubt that Mooy and company have put in the hard yards to get there.

Qualification was an exhausting process, a third-place finish in the Asia qualifiers behind Japan and Saudi Arabia meaning Russia could only be reached via two rounds of play-offs.

Syria, a 16,000-mile round trip away, were dispatched over two legs thanks to Tim Cahill’s double in the return leg that overturned a one-goal deficit.

Honduras then stood between the Socceroos and a place in the finals, which was duly claimed thanks to another second leg victory as Mile Jedinak’s hat-trick proved decisive. Postecoglou quit a week later, citing exhaustion, and was replaced by former Holland national coach van Marwijk.

His reign, however, will only last until after the World Cup, Graham Arnold having been lined up to take charge for a second time.

Such upheaval is one of the reasons why few give Australia a chance but not the only one. FIFA rankings can be notoriously unreliable, as Switzerland sitting sixth right now amply illustrates. But in the case of the Socceroos, their place behind non-qualifiers such as Northern Ireland, Wales and the United States feels about right.

A midfield boasting Mooy, Celtic’s Tom Rogic and the talented Massimo Luongo of QPR will not, however, be easily over-run.

But resources are scarce up front, as the reliance on 38-year-old Cahill underlines. It is a far cry from the 2006 squad that had Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell plus a much younger Cahill to take the game to the opposition.

That team battled through the group stage – losing to Brazil but beating Japan and taking a point off Croatia – before bowing out in a narrow defeat to eventual champions Italy in the Round of 16.

Even matching that performance seems a tall order for the current crop but Mooy, fuelled by Huddersfield’s survival, believes anything is possible.

“It was great to head to the World Cup on a positive,” added the Sydney-born midfielder. “We were desperate to stay in the Premier League.

“The season was all about surviving and we did that. No-one wants to go into the summer on a low. This way, I had a clean mind to approach the next challenge.

“The World Cup is massive for the game in Australia. It is big for the nation, too. The whole country really gets behind the team.”

After the ball-tampering furore involving Australia’s cricketers, the nation could do with a sporting lift.

France, ranked seventh in the world, are first up today, followed by Denmark (12th) on Thursday and then Peru (11th) five days later.

For Mooy, this trio of fixtures will be the culmination of a two-year schedule that has seen the Huddersfield play-maker travel around 230,000 miles alone on World Cup duty.

Throw in last summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia – when Australia lost narrowly to Germany before drawing their other two group games – and a sprinkling of friendlies and it underlines the demands that have been placed on Mooy and his other Premier League based international team-mates.

“I have done a lot of travelling but I didn’t know it was that much,” he said about an itinerary that included visits to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Bangladesh, Jordan, Iraq, UAE, Japan and Thailand before tackling Syria and Honduras in the play-offs.

“But going to a World Cup makes everything worthwhile. My first memory of a World Cup is 2002, the one in Japan. That sticks out in my mind.

“I never had any big heroes or anything like that but I do remember watching Australia in all the games we played at the World Cups since then.

“As a country, we have done well to reach so many World Cups in recent years. This is my first one but Russia will be our fourth in a row. That is why there was so much pressure on qualification.

“We didn’t want to be the ones that ruined the pattern, as we had been to the three previous World Cups. To be able to carry on that run was brilliant.

“Now we are there, we just have to do our best. The furthest Australia has been is the first knockout round. It would be great to beat that. The first thing, though, is to match that achievement. If we can do that then everyone will be pleased.”