- Australia's Massimo Luongo seeking his first World Cup qualification
- The AFC Asian Cup’s best player has a royal connection
- Luongo says playing in a World Cup is his career “No1 goal"
This time four years ago, Massimo Luongo was an unknown. Few among Australian football’s most-dedicated football aficionados were familiar with the livewire midfielder plying his trade at Swindon Town in England’s third tier.
Fast forward a full World Cup cycle and much has changed. Luongo is now just two games away from something he is “desperate” to achieve: FIFA World Cup™ qualification. Standing in the way are a stubborn Honduras side who have their own dreams of an unprecedented third successive World Cup appearance.
Despite not having a national team starting appearance to his name, Luongo was selected for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, though game-time was not forthcoming. The real breakthrough came within a matter of months. The little-known Sydneysider scored in Australia’s AFC Asian Cup final win over Korea Republic and was subsequently named player of the tournament.
Luongo’s headline-grabbing feats also caused an unexpected stir in Indonesia. His grandfather was a Sultan on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa. Luongo has been a recurring topic in Indonesia’s massive social media ecosystem ever since his Asian Cup heroics.
And in many ways Luongo is symbolic of 21st century multicultural Australia. Born to an Italian father, a post-war migrant, and an Indonesian mother to whom he owes his royal bloodlines, Luongo speaks with an English inflection while talking of his pride in representing the Green and Gold.
Luongo’s maiden experience of winning World Cup qualification is tantalisingly close. Having had a small taster of the World Cup, Luongo is eager to experience more.
“It [playing in a World Cup] is my No1 goal,” Luongo told FIFA.com from the team’s Honduran base camp. “Being in Brazil was massive for me, but it would be a different feeling to actually set foot on the pitch for a World Cup game.
“The feeling just being on the bench was massive. I am so determined to play in a World Cup,” added Luongo, with his voice taking on a new emphasis. “Not having the full experience last time, I’m quite desperate to achieve that.”
The two-legged play-off opens in San Pedro Sula on Friday, and concludes in Sydney on Wednesday. The return encounter will be played just one day shy of the 12-year anniversary of John Aloisi’s iconic winning penalty, which ended Australia's 32-year World Cup drought in such memorable fashion.
In attempting to reach Russia 2018, the Socceroos will have played a record-equalling 22 qualifiers in a campaign that has taken them the length and breadth of Asia on multiple occasions.
“The fact that we have been together for the whole time means we are quite close now,” Luongo said. “There have been ups and downs, but overall we feel we deserve to be there [based on the route]. We know that it won’t come easily though, so we need to take it [the opportunity].”
Luongo recalls the Socceroos’ Germany 2006 qualification with fondness, saying it was a turning point for both him and the Australian game. “I remember at school everyone wanting to be John Aloisi, recreating that penalty,” he said. “It was massive and I think everyone remembers where they were when we qualified.
“I wasn’t a passionate football fan as a kid, even though I played. I didn’t realise how passionate I was until that game.
“I have witnessed first-hand what the impact of the Socceroos can be for the younger generation, which makes it even more important that we get the job done.”
The backdrop to our training ground in San Pedro Sula is stunning. pic.twitter.com/iZ8Q8rQBwK
— Caltex Socceroos (@Socceroos) November 8, 2017