No backward steps for Culina

It was a long time coming, but since making his debut for the Socceroos against South Africa in February 2005, Jason Culina hasn’t taken a backward step.

It was a long time coming, but since making his debut for the Socceroos against South Africa in February 2005, Jason Culina hasn-t taken a backward step.

He is now a fixture in the starting eleven whenever he is available for the Socceroos and his athleticism and 110% effort from start to finish, makes it hard for any coach to leave him out.

But getting to that position wasn-t easy for the Melbourne-born, Sydney raised child of a professional soccer coach (his father is Branko Culina, former Sydney FC coach). As a junior player he was an outstanding prospect, one of the youngest players to make his first grade debut in the old National Soccer League and a regular in the junior national teams.

In 1999, some of Europe-s leading clubs came knocking at his door and the skilful midfielder was headed to Ajax Amsterdam, one of the best football nurseries for young players in the world.

The world was at his feet, or so it seemed.

To cut a long story short, things didn-t quite go as well as expected at Ajax and after loans spells at Germinal Beerschot (Belgium) and De Graafschap (Holland), his five-year spell came to end, with just two first team appearances for Ajax in his five years at the club.

One could be forgiven, if he didn-t chuck it all in and head for the comforts of home of Australia, where his football talents would have been appreciated far more.

“It was a tough time in some respects, but I did learn a lot in my time there,” Jason told “It certainly made a tougher person and I will certainly not take anything for granted anymore, because things can change very quickly in this game.

“It was very frustrating being continually overlooked and there were times where I thought, why not just go back home and start all over again. But there were several people that believed in me and once I made the move to FC Twente in 2004, my confidence grew and as they say ‘the rest is history-.”

Indeed, from the start at FC Twente he showed just what he was capable of, scoring goals from his midfield position and catching the eye of many people, including Frank Farina the coach of the Socceroos at the time.

Which brings us to today and Culina is in camp with the Socceroos for the all-important upcoming AFC World Cup qualifiers in June.

And when it comes to talking about the World Cup, you can sense a little spark in his voice. There is no doubt these games mean a lot to him and that a second World Cup appearance is something the likeable 27-year-old wants to experience again.

“It has,” Culina says, on whether 2006 has whet the appetite for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. “Personally speaking I-ve played in all the big tournaments that you can possibly play in.

“Playing in the World Cup is the greatest tournament and I have been lucky enough to play in one and I want to play in another. So really looking forward to it, but a lot of work ahead before we talk about that.”

That hard work starts on June 1 with a qualifier in Brisbane against Iraq and then followed a two-game stint in the Middle East, again against Iraq in Dubai (UAE) and Qatar in Doha. The final game is against China at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney on June 22.

“It will be difficult, as everyone is coming off a long season,” Culina said of the month long qualifying program. “But in saying that, everyone is fit; at their peak fitness, so hopefully everyone can come here and do the job and make everybody proud and progress as early as possible and go into the next phase.

“We have put ourselves in a fairly decent position to progress, but we-ve got two difficult games against Iraq. It won-t easy, they-ve beaten us before and yes we are not happy about it.

“In saying that the boys are fitter now; the Asian Cup is something we have to forget about and focus on these next two games and if we can win those; get maximum points I think we have a very chance of progressing.”

One of the biggest hurdles that the Australian players have had to get used to over the years, is the varying conditions they have to play in, especially for away games. Jason though believes the players are slowly becoming accustomed to them and thinks they will be able to do the job while in the UAE and Qatar.

“It-s never easy playing in conditions like that, but both teams have to play in those conditions. Yes they are used to it; they live in those conditions, they play in those conditions week in, week out, but we can-t think about that too much.

“You know we have got to try and get three points in Brisbane and if we can get a draw or be lucky enough to win in Dubai then so be it. It-s going to be difficult but we have to go and do the job.”

First though is the friendly against Ghana on Friday night at the Sydney Football Stadium, where he will be one of the few experienced national team players in the squad. Culina though is striving to be fit for the game, after sustaining a leg injury late in PSV Eindhoven and his 3rd successive Championship run.

“The injury is progressing well; it-s just a matter of being fully fit in time for the match. I don-t like playing when I am not 100% fit, because I always like to do my best.

Culina has no doubts the Ghana match will offer the young players, valuable experience and put themselves in the frame.

“It-s a good opportunity for those young guys and who better to test yourself against than one of the best teams in the world in Ghana. It-s a good test and I am looking forward to it.”

The Socceroos will play Ghana on Friday night at 8.00pm at the Sydney Football Stadium, preceded by the Matildas against Canada at 5.15pm.

World Cup qualifying matches start on June 1 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane against Iraq. Tickets for all matches can be purchased from Ticketek.