MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Whether timing is a heaven-sent gift or an instinct honed through years of repetition, Australia’s Andrew Nabbout has shown himself blessed with the quality as a goal-scoring winger.
His most inspired piece of timing, however, may be breaking into the Socceroos squad only months before the World Cup, having never really been part of the selection conversation.
Nabbout made the first cut from Bert Van Marwijk’s squad on Tuesday and is being backed to survive the final trim to 23 after a training camp in Turkey.
The 25-year-old has enjoyed a thrilling few months, from helping A-League side Newcastle return to the playoffs for the first time in eight years to sealing a lucrative move to Japanese powerhouse Urawa.
Getting the surprise call-up to Van Marwijk’s first squad in March was the icing on the cake, especially after being ignored throughout Ange Postecoglou’s four years in charge.
“Looking back at it now, it has been a bit of a whirlwind,” Nabbout told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
“When you look at everything in general, a lot has happened over the last few months.
“It’s all falling into place but that’s not happened because of luck or anything else. That’s pure hard work.”
It is tempting to think that inspiration may also have played a part, as in February Nabbout scored a goal for the ages in an A-League match against the Western Sydney Wanderers.
Bursting into the box at full speed, the stocky winger unleashed a stunning outside-of-the-foot strike that curled into the right corner, earning ESPN’s worldwide goal of the week.
Two weeks later, Nabbout was in the Socceroos squad and won his first caps against Norway and Colombia soon after.
Australia may need similar strokes of genius in Russia as the underdogs of a group that also features France, Denmark and Peru, and as a team that struggles to score.
Tomi Juric and 38-year-old Tim Cahill are the out-and-out strikers in the squad but the former’s conversion rate is underwhelming and the latter has barely played any football in the past six months.
Nabbout could end up being a focal point up front and has been training for that scenario.
“(Van Marwijk) has pretty much told me he wants me to play out wide but also play as a number nine as well,” he said.
“He said: ‘I need you to be ready for both of those roles’. And I’m more than ready.”
While champing at the bit, Nabbout has also shown patience and the courage of his convictions to knock back multiple offers of international football with Lebanon over the years.
Born to Lebanese parents, he ignored calls from the country’s football association to turn his back on Australia.
“They’ve been in contact with me constantly to try have me pledge my allegiance to them but I’ve always said that the Socceroos is my goal and I’ve declined every call from the Lebanese national team until now,” he said.
“I was really grateful to get my chance in the Socceroos and there’s no looking back now.”
Bulky centre forward Mark Viduka, capped 43 times for Australia from 1994-2007, was among the childhood heroes that Nabbout watched at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
And 12 years later he is relishing the thought of teaming up with another of the Socceroos’ ‘Golden Generation’ in Cahill, who is in line to play at his fourth World Cup.
Regardless of match fitness, the nation’s top goal-scorer still has the game to be influential in Russia, Nabbout said.
“Timmy is a legend of this country,” he added.
“To be able to say that you’re playing in a fourth World Cup is unbelievable. I’m working my butt off just to make it to my first.
“I think he can definitely make an impact.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford