Wollongong’s former Socceroo Luke Wilkshire knows well the highs and lows of playing in a World Cup and in Russia.
Having played in two World Cup tournaments and spent almost eight years as a Dynamo Moscow player, Wilkshire is perhaps better placed than most to know what the Socceroos can expect at the 2018 football showpiece.
The now Wollongong Wolves star likes Australia’s chances but said getting a result against tournament favourites France in the Socceroos’ opening game on Saturday was “vitally important”.
”I think the first game is very crucial in a World Cup,” Wilkshire said.
“We seen that when we beat Japan in 2006 and got through and in 2010 when we lost 4-0 to the Germans. That made it difficult for us to get out of the group, even though we managed a draw and win in the next two games.”
But the 36-year-old, who has 80 Socceroo caps to his name, likes Australia’s chances of progressing to the knockout stages in Russia.
“I think our draw is probably as good as we could have hoped,” he said.
“That first game is very critical and I think obviously it is going to be tough against France, but you would like to think that we can pick up some results against Denmark and Peru.”
The Albion Park junior is also excited to see what Melbourne City teenage sensation Daniel Arzani can do at the World Cup.
“He is a young talent, something that we don’t have in the team,” Wilkshire said.
“I think he provides a spark and can make an impact. The beauty of a young player like him is he has no fear and can just go out there and do his thing.”
Wilkshire also expects Australia will enjoy playing in Russia, a country which is very close to his heart.
Not only did he play almost 150 games for Dynamo Moscow over two spells, Russia is where Wilkshire met his “beautiful wife”.
“Meeting my beautiful wife I’d say is the highlight but look I love Moscow and love Russia,” he said.
“Dynamo is a big part of my life. That’s my team. It is in my heart and always will be.”
While disappointed with Australia’s last friendly showing against the Czech Republic, Wilkshire believes the players will be chomping at the bit to play for real in front of sell-out crowds.
“I expect there will be sell out crowds everywhere. It is a World Cup. It is a major event. The people there love their football.”