'I felt like I was at home': Nathaniel Atkinson dedicates debut to family in Tasmania

While this morning’s final Group B match for the Socceroos against Saudi Arabia held no implications in terms of World Cup Qualification, it meant a whole lot more to a family watching from Tasmania.

There is a strong football history in the Apple Isles but, mainly due to a small population, it would not be a stretch to say that the state has not been a powerhouse in producing international footballers.

Nathaniel Atkinson is doing his best to change that narrative and he took the next step this morning when he debuted for the national team: becoming the first Tasmanian to play for the Socceroos in 24 years since Dominic Longo made his last appearance for the Green and Gold in 1998.

The 22-year-old is already trailblazing a path for future Tasmanians with his exploits in the A-League Men's and in Europe, with the 2021 Joe Marston Medal winner already starring for Scottish side Hearts in his short time there.

Touted by many as Australia’s next right back, Atkinson’s debut was laid with a foundation of 75 senior caps for Melbourne City, a match-winning performance in last season’s Grand Final, and 180 minutes in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

READ MORE: What’s next for the Socceroos?

All of this, says Atkinson, is put down to the sacrifices and hard work by his family back home. 

From early morning junior games, to making sure Atkinson was able to pursue his football dream on the mainland – the defender’s family has been behind him every step of the way. So it is no wonder they made sure to wake up early to watch the culmination of all the hard work, both his and theirs.

“I felt like I was at home on the pitch, I feel like I've been building up for this moment for a long time,” said Atkinson.

“Making my debut is obviously great for me, but it's more special for my family with all the sacrifices they've made.”

There is little doubt they feel the same way. 

Atkinson played the full 90 minutes in his Australian senior debut and played a part in almost claiming a point in hostile territory.

Regardless, all eyes are now on the main prize: World Cup Qualification, and Atkinson is in no denial as to the magnitude of the task the team now faces.

“It's great to get my debut but every football wants to win games and we're in a tough spot at the moment. We've got to keep positive because we're still in this.”

The Socceroos move on to the next stage of the qualification process when they take on UAE in Qatar on Tuesday 7 June.