The Luongo way to the top

by Tunna on Jan 14, 2015

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As football fans, we regularly point to moments in history that heralded the beginning of brilliant careers. When we talk about Australian football’s chronicles, Harry Kewell in 1997 is one name that is immediately referenced. Over two legs against Iran in what, of course, ended in failure in qualifying for France ‘98, Australia announced a new superstar to the world.

He might not have reached these heights just yet, but for Massimo Luongo the Asian Cup could be the breakthrough tournament he requires to see him take his game to the next level. Fans of our national team couldn’t be happier and are now looking to their next bright talent.

A young and scrawny midfielder with an abundance of tenacity and grit, all of this combined with a great sense of humility has allowed him to enter the hearts of football fans in the country in less than a week.

We’ll forever look to 9th January 2015 as the beginning of something special. That moment we’ll recall in years to come when Luongo transitioned from a squad player to the Socceroos star that all the kids want a photo with.

It’s a hopeful statement but if performances over the opening two matches of the Asian Cup are the barometer of what we can expect in the future, then we’re in for some show.

Even after having received plaudits from seasoned campaigners in Mark Bresciano and Tim Cahill while in camp prior to the opening match in Melbourne, most would have still been surprised to see Luongo named in the starting line up against Kuwait.

By comparison to some of his teammates, he began slowly, showing some nerves with consecutive miss-directed passes in the opening quarter hour. Once he was able to dust off and lose the sense of sentiment and occasion, Luongo went on to register a man of the match performance, highlighted by his mazy run into the box and cross which resulted in the opening goal for Cahill, and then moments later a header to put his country into the lead on the stroke of half time. It didn’t end there, with Luongo dictating terms in the second half and showing maturity beyond his years.

The 22-year-old from Sydney was the toast of the opening night and Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou didn’t shy away from lauding his new star, citing his ability to score and create, but more importantly his urgency on the ball which lifted his teammates around him.

Ange must be credited for pulling Luongo from obscurity when most hadn’t heard of his existence, let alone were aware he was Australian. It was Ange that persevered with this then raw talent since taking the reigns as national coach.

Similarly, Luongo played a major part in the Socceroos 4-0 demolition of Kuwait, in particular when Luongo latched onto a pass in the front third to loop it perfectly to Robbie Kruse to run into goal and score. showed great poise and awareness with a swarm of Omani defenders congesting his space.

Again, Luongo was acclaimed by his coach and teammates as well as a cross section of the media. The World Game website described him as “The Joker in Ange’s deck” while the Daily Telegraph heaped even more praise by saying “Luongo offers the all-round package, silk and steel, energy and poise. Creator of the first goal last Friday and scorer of the second, against Oman he had a hand in every goal scored in the 50 minutes he was on the pitch”.

It’s a far cry from the County Ground of his club, Swindon Town, but Luongo from all reports is relishing his time in camp with Ange’s men. He has noted in his media interviews the professionalism within the camp that has helped fast track his football maturity. Luongo credits much of his improvement over the last 12 months purely down to the exposure he’s had as part of the Socceroos, which also includes the confidence that Postecoglou has been able to instil in him. From playing at high tempo on the international stage to the state of the art sports science program at FFA, these have all contributed – according to Luongo – in accelerating his development.

After consecutive victories against Kuwait and Oman, Australia is now well poised to contest for the title of Asian champions which culminates in the final on January 31. A week ago we could be forgiven for thinking that Luongo would play a minimal part in the Socceroos campaign. Now, we fully expect the surprise packet to be integral in Australia’s chances in triumph. Whatever happens between now and then, discussions will be had and offers will be made as circling clubs make a play to prize the young star away from Swindon Town. In 10 years time, all football fans will be hoping to reflect on that era when a young star named Mass Luongo was unearthed and came to the fore on the international stage.