KAZAN, Russia (Reuters) - The youngest player at the World Cup, Daniel Arzani, grew up playing street football in Iran but lined up in the gold shirt of Australia to belt out the national anthem before the Socceroos’ opener against France.
The 19-year-old’s dream of appearing in Russia was fulfilled late on at Kazan Arena but his hopes of a winning debut were thwarted as Australia were beaten 2-1.
“I think the biggest moment for me was actually at the beginning of the game when I’m looking around, seeing all these Aussie fans in the yellow shirts everywhere and we were kind of singing the national anthem and your heart’s just absolutely pumping,” the Melbourne City youngster told a media conference at the Socceroos’ Kazan base on Monday.
“You realise the gravity of the situation. You’re here representing a whole nation on the biggest stage.”
Arzani had barely played any senior football for A-League club City until January, but he believes he is ready to start in the Socceroos’ final two Group C matches, against Denmark in Samara on Thursday and Peru next week.
Raised in Khorramabad in western Iran but having represented Australia at junior levels, Arzani’s football journey could have been quite different.
He watched Iran beat Morocco 1-0 to claim their first World Cup win in 20 years, and was thrilled for them.
“I didn’t watch all the game because we had a meeting in the middle of it but I saw the own goal by Morocco,” he said.
“I follow a couple of players on Instagram and I was looking at them after the game and they were ecstatic and I’m really happy for them as well. It would have been a big moment for them and the country as well.”
Arzani first honed his talent in rough-and-tumble match-ups with other neighbourhood kids.
He has become renowned for his dribbling and credits street football for giving him swagger on Australian pitches.
“Growing up playing in the streets, you have to have that (cockiness), or else you get eaten alive by the other boys,” he said.
“You have to believe in yourself and even when you make a mistake you have to stand by it.”
He made his international debut against Czech Republic earlier this month and scored his first goal against Hungary a week later.
He has already attracted the attention of European clubs and hinted that a move to the Netherlands, where his former Melbourne City coach John van’t Schip manages Eredivisie side PEC Zwolle, could be in the offing.
Great expectations have been heaped on his shoulders, but Arzani is unfazed by them.
“Obviously, a lot of people have a lot of expectations of me but I think no-one’s expectations of me will ever be as high as my own or my parents’,” he said.
“I think that kind of helps deal with the pressure because the most pressure that I’m getting is the one I put on myself.”
Editing by Toby Davis