Irvine remembers 'the most exciting game I've ever been involved in'
Socceroos midfielder Jackson Irvine says rubbing shoulders with the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Bravo against Chile in 2017 was the most exhilirating on-field experience of his career to date.
Irvine played 90 minutes of that 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup clash in Russia in front of over 33,000 fans in Moscow.
James Troisi opened the scoring for Australia but Martín Rodríguez equalised for the South American giants and secured a 1-1 draw which secured Chile passage to the final four of the tournament.
“I’ve played against South American teams before and there’s a certain fire within the games, and a certain level of aggression that I’ve always admired about South American football in a lot of ways,” Irvine told socceroos.com.au.
“The flair and skill that comes along with it too, South American football, coming up against it first-hand against Chile was probably the most exciting game I’ve been involved in club or country.
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Australia came into their clash with Chile after losing 3-2 to Germany and sharing the spoils in a 1-1 draw against Cameroon in their first two Confederations Cup contests.
Irvine wasn’t selected in the starting 11 for either of those contests but was flung into the thick of the action for the Socceroos’ final game, playing from the start against Chile and forging what was to become an unforgettable experience.
“I think the biggest surprise for me was even starting the game,” Irvine said.
“We made a lot of changes from the two games beforehand, guys like myself and James Troisi and others that hadn’t played in the other games and were thrown in to start that last game.
“From minute one it was end-to-end, open, aggressive football played.
“It’s difficult to explain, I think those who remember it probably saw the most exciting game I’ve probably ever been involved in, I thought we were so unlucky not to have won it in the end.
“Just the aggression, the pace, everything about it and the open feel to the game itself was so memorable, and I think it was one of the first times I’d played from the start against opposition of that calibre and probably was an important moment for me in my international career in a lot of ways as well.”
Keeping eyes on the prize
While the Socceroos journey to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ is in its early stages, Jackson Irvine is maintaining focus by thinking of the prize at the finish line.
The Melbourne-born midfielder had the privilege of running out in all three of the Green and Gold’s matches at the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia, as a substitute, and they are memories he cherishes.
While international football has taken a backseat to the coronavirus pandemic that is gripping the globe, Graham Arnold’s side are midway through the second stage of the Asian Football Confederation qualifying and they lead Group B with four wins from four matches.
With at least another 14 matches to play over the next two years to punch their ticket to the world football extravaganza, which heads to the Middile East for the first time in its 92-year history, Irvine is well aware of the life-changing experience which awaits.
“It’s the ultimate goal. It’s obviously one game at a time and you want to focus on the job at hand but that’s the big picture and that’s what we know is at stake,” Irvine said.
“For sure, it’s why we play the game and it’s why we play international football, to play at the highest level and represent your country on the world stage.
“We’ll take it a game at a time and a phase at a time but the bigger picture is always there in the background, sometimes I think it’s good to have that little reminder and to know what’s at stake.
“For us who have been lucky enough to have been there and played in one already, we know what it’s like and how good it can be.
“We want to go and make sure we’re there again in a few years time.”
Arnold’s side must complete fixtures against Kuwait, Nepal, Jordan and Chinese Taipei and top the group to secure their spot in the third stage, although those matches are yet to be rescheduled while the world aims to contain the widespread COVID-19 pandemic.
But the Socceroos’ confidence is riding high after a perfect start to the round and Irvine, who plies his trade as Hull City captain in the English Championship, believes Australia have taken big steps already in the campaign.
“I think the biggest thing is probably seeing out the game,” Irvine added.
“Another big thing is scoring early, that’s something that we’ve been really clinical in the early parts of games.
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“I think sometimes in Asia – it happened to us in the Asian Cup – you’d miss chances and are wasteful in the final third, particularly early on the games.
“The longer the game goes on it gives teams something to hang on to. It makes it more difficult to manage the game within that.
“Starting with Kuwait scoring two or three goals before half time and Jordan scoring I think after 10 or 11 minutes, just that clinical edge in front of goal in the early [stages of] games has probably helped us massively, in terms of being able to manage games out.
“The management of games defensively, you’re always going to rely on your goalkeeper to make saves at certain times but I think he have managed those games well and that’s reflected by having conceded one goal in the opening few games.”