When Mat Ryan steps onto the field in Russia, he’ll not only be aiming to inspire the Caltex Socceroos to the knockout stage but also eyeing some World Cup redemption.
This will be Ryan’s second appearance at the FIFA World Cup after playing all three group games in Brazil four years ago.
Just 22 at the time, a raw and fresh-faced Ryan conceded nine goals as Ange Postecoglou’s inexperienced side last all three group matches.
But it was the second group match against the Netherlands that sticks out for the Brighton and Hove Albion gloveman.
With scores locked at 2-2 and the Caltex Socceroos on the cusp of a huge upset, Ryan let a long-range Memphis Depay shot slip through his hands and into the net to condemn Australia to defeat.
“That World Cup experience was the hardest few days of my life, there’s no doubt about that,” Ryan recalled to foxsports.com.au.
“It was the biggest learning curve of my career, and I think I was a little bit in awe of the enormity of the whole tournament.
“I wanted to be ready, but maybe wasn’t. It was my first taste of football at that level, and everything was amplified.”
“My biggest error was thinking I needed to change my game because it was the World Cup,” he added.
“I should have played my natural game, and what allowed me to get there in the first place.”
Four years on and Ryan is now a far more mature and well-rounded keeper, desperate to prove he has what it takes on the biggest of stages.
And he’s arguably in the form of his life.
The 26-year-old played every minute of the Premier League season as Brighton defied the odds to avoid relegation in their first season back in the top flight of English football.
Like the Seagulls in the EPL, the Caltex Socceroos have been written off in some circles, expected to struggle in a group which features France (ranked no.6 in the world), Peru (11th) and Denmark (12th).
It’s just the way Ryan likes it.
“The aim is to win every game; that’s why we play,” the ex-Valencia and Club Brugge shot-stopper said.
“This season with Brighton I have beaten Arsenal and Manchester United, so that shows what is possible when you believe in yourself.
“As Australians, we have been drilled not to fear anyone, and just to believe in ourselves, so who knows where that can take us?”
“These are going to be three of the most difficult games of our lives,” he added.
“I am under no illusion there. We are going to have to give it all in order to progress and get to the knockout stage.”
Ryan added of going into the tournament under new boss Bert van Marwijk: “We have to adapt to playing under the new coach. It is all new to us.
“There have had a lot of changes, so hopefully we will be fresh.
“We will have an intense time before the tournament, learning from him and his staff. We will give it our best shot.”
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