Journey's end for Aussie McGowan
© FIFA.com

For Ryan McGowan, Egypt 2009 has been a long time coming. "I was 14 when I started a programme at the South Australia Sports Institute - and the end goal was always this World Cup," he told FIFA.com. "So I've been working towards this tournament for the best part of five years now and to be a part of the squad is very exciting."

One can only marvel at McGowan's dedication to a quest that has not only been five years in the making, but also 10,000 miles. That was how far this Aussie centre-half was willing to move to realise his ambition when, at the tender age 17, he was offered a professional contract on the other side of the world with Scottish club Hearts.

"It was daunting - I had only just turned 17 - so it was a huge move to leave my family and everything I had grown up with," he said of the move from Adelaide to Edinburgh. "But I was determined to make it, plus my parents are Scottish and they were all for it. They just warned me about the weather, which is certainly different to Adelaide, but they were 100 per cent in favour of me going for it."

This, in fact, was just the first of several extraordinary sacrifices by the McGowans, for whom this U-20 showpiece has become something of a family odyssey. The second came when they gave their blessing for Ryan's younger brother, Dylan, to become the second McGowan on Hearts' books in the hope that he too could earn a ticket to Egypt.

We believe strongly that we can get out of this group and, after that, who knows? Four good performances at that stage and you could win the title.
Ryan McGowan

It was a decision that looked to have paid off handsomely when both siblings were named in Jan Versleijen's provisional 30-man pool, although disappointment was to follow when Dylan was among nine players axed from the slimmed-down final squad. "Obviously he is very disappointed, and I was sad for him because I know it was something he was desperate to do," said the elder brother. "But he's young enough to be eligible for the next U-20 World Cup, so hopefully his chance will come."

Ryan knows only too well, however, that the thought of competing in 2011 is unlikely to offer much consolation, especially as Dylan is not only missing out on a FIFA finals, but also a rare family reunion. "My parents have already booked up to come to Egypt," he explained. "I made a deal with them when I was 14 that if I ever made it to a World Cup, they had to come to watch me, wherever it was. So when I got the call to say I was definitely in the squad, I was straight on the phone to tell them to get their passports out!"

McGowan's challenge now is to ensure that mum, dad and the rest of the Aussie onlookers in Egypt are served up the same diet of success they have become accustomed to in recent times. The rise of the Socceroos to 14th in the world has certainly strengthened Australia's belief that they belong among the game's elite, and the U-20 side typify this steely self-assurance.

"This is a World Cup and we're not just here to make the numbers up," insisted McGowan. "We believe strongly that we can get out of this group and, after that, who knows? Four good performances at that stage and you could win the title. That's the way we've got to look at it."