June 23, 2018 / 12:05 PM / 3 months ago

Risdon revels in World Cup after long road to Russia

KAZAN, Russia (Reuters) - In an Australia team that has knocked up a trove of frequent flyer points to get to Russia, defender Josh Risdon knows a thing or two about taking the long road to fulfil his dream of playing at a World Cup.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Group C - Denmark vs Australia - Samara Arena, Samara, Russia - June 21, 2018 Denmark's Pione Sisto in action with Australia's Josh Risdon and Trent Sainsbury REUTERS/David Gray

Born and raised in Bunbury, a coastal town in Western Australia, Risdon and his parents clocked up some 1,700 kilometres (1,056 miles) a week driving to and from the remote state capital Perth to play in junior representative teams.

Unlike most of Australia’s top talents, who ply their trade in Europe, the 25-year-old right back plays for the aptly-named Western Sydney Wanderers in Australia’s A-League, a top-flight competition that involves plenty of taxing trips across the country’s vast land mass.

Breaking into the Socceroos has also been a journey, with a debut in 2015, a struggle to hold down a regular position and a surprise recall to Bert van Marwijk’s World Cup squad that forced him to postpone a planned honeymoon.

A day after his wedding, he jumped on a long-haul flight to the team’s training camp in Turkey.

Two matches into the World Cup, with Peru to come on Tuesday and Australia’s tournament very much alive, Risdon’s head is still spinning.

“I took a moment during the national anthem to close my eyes and soak it all in during that second game (against Denmark),” the pacy full back told reporters at Australia’s training base in Kazan on Saturday.

“You just sort of pinch yourself and see how far you’ve come when you’re playing against the best players on the biggest stage on the world.

“It probably helps in a way that they don’t know much about me.”

Risdon suffered an early setback in the 2-1 loss against France, giving away a penalty with a sliding tackle on Antoine Griezmann that resulted in their first goal.

He felt aggrieved by the decision but responded well, earning praise from Van Marwijk and plenty of admiration elsewhere for his hard tackling and fearless dashes out of defence.

On one point in Group C after a 1-1 draw against Denmark, the Socceroos feel confident of upsetting the already eliminated Peru in Sochi.

Then it will be up to France, already in the last 16, to beat Denmark and give Australia a chance, with goal difference another factor.

Risdon hopes Ricardo Gareca-coached Peru will go for broke to push for a win, even if there is only pride on the line for them.

“In terms of fast tempo, we’re very fit as a side and I’m sure we can match them all day in fitness,” said Risdon.

“If it does open up, I think it will help us.”

Editing by Ian Chadband

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