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Souttar typifies Scottish influence on Australia World Cup squad

By AFP - Nov 29,2022 - Last updated at Nov 29,2022

Australia’s Harry Souttar (centre) attends a training session at the Qatar 2022 World Cup tournament in Doha on Monday (AFP photo by Chandan Khanna)

DOHA — Mitch Duke was the goalscoring hero when Australia beat Tunisia to claim its first World Cup win in 12 years but nothing summed up the Socceroos’ performance in that game quite like the last-ditch goal-saving tackle from giant centre-back Harry Souttar.

Souttar was likened by one commentator to Superman as the hulking 1.98m-tall defender, put in a colossal display at Al Janoub Stadium, and clips of his brilliant challenge on Tunisia’s Taha Yassine Khenissi in that game have gone viral online.

It was not just the 24-year-old’s performance as Australia kept a first World Cup clean sheet since 1974 that was remarkable, but also the simple fact that he is in Qatar with Graham Arnold’s side.

Souttar spent a year on the sidelines after suffering a serious knee injury in a World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia.

He only just returned in the nick of time to play one game for his club Stoke City and make the Australian squad.

“I’ve only played three games so I don’t think I’m 100 per cent fit but I give 100 per cent in every game,” he said, but in any case the last year was especially trying for other reasons.

His elder brother Aaron died of motor neurone disease in July, putting everything into perspective for a player who was born in Aberdeen in Scotland.

His other brother John, who now plays for Rangers, chose to represent Scotland but Harry opted for Australia, for whom he was eligible through his mother.

It is a decision he clearly doesn’t regret and his performances in Qatar have also delighted John, even if he could be jealous of his sibling after Scotland failed to qualify.

“I spoke with him after the game and he’s delighted with me,” Harry said at Australia’s training base in Doha.

“We speak every day and we have become a lot closer over the past year.

“In terms of the Australia thing, I got the phone call and it was a very simple decision from my point of view, and it is probably the best decision I’ve ever made.”

The number of Australians with Scottish heritage is considerable and the Scottish influence is striking throughout the Socceroos’ squad.

As well as Souttar there is Jason Cummings, a striker who was capped for Scotland before opting to switch to Australia in time for the World Cup — he was eligible via his Perth-born mother.

Then there is Martin Boyle, an Aberdeen-born winger who plays in Scotland for Hibernian but whose father is from Down Under.

He would have been a key player in Qatar only to be struck down by a knee injury just before the tournament, although he has remained with the squad.

“We have moved him into the staff now as ‘OVM’ — Official Vibe Manager — to keep all the boys up, because he is just one of the most fantastic blokes you will meet in your life,” said Arnold.

Midfielder Jackson Irvine, whose father is Scottish, played for Scotland at youth international level and has played for four clubs there including Celtic, while goalkeeper Mathew Ryan’s mother is Scottish.

Their squad is also littered with players who ply their trade in Scotland, including Souttar’s centre-back partner Kye Rowles, of Hearts, and Celtic’s Aaron Mooy.

It is not insignificant that Mooy’s manager at Celtic is Ange Postecoglou, a revered figure in Australian football who coached the Socceroos at the 2014 World Cup.

“Ange is part of the reason,” said St Mirren’s Keanu Baccus when asked why so many Australians have ended up there.

“The door definitely opened for us to go there and showcase ourselves in a strong league and to improve and get better, and there are a lot of eyes on the game too.

“It is good for us as players and good for the national team.”

Not that it would be too wise a decision to seek inspiration from Scotland, who have been absent from the World Cup since 1998 and have never reached the knockout rounds at the finals.

That is Australia’s goal when it meets Denmark on Wednesday.

Also in Group D, Tunisia takes on France.

Poland plays Argentina while Saudi Arabia gos up against Mexico in Group B.

 

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