Within the walls of the Socceroos’ Doha sanctuary there isn’t exactly a wild World Cup vibe.
But Australia’s players don’t have to look far for pointed reminders of what they’re there for — and who they’re representing.
Rooms and corridors are decorated with mural art commemorating the unforgettable playoff win over Peru, team photos of every previous Australian World Cup squad and letters of support from school children back home.
Pylons carry the names of each of the 26 squad members and above the majestic main foyer sits a banner listing more than 600 players who donned the shirt before them.
The sentimental touches at Australia’s Qatar 2022 base certainly strike you but it’s the practicalities officials believe will provide the Socceroos with a World Cup edge.
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Football Australia considers it a significant pre-tournament win that they were able to secure part of the $1.3 billion the Aspire Academy as their full-time base — where the players eat, sleep and train — despite being the last of the 32 teams to qualify.
Socceroos legend Tim Cahill is Chief Sport Officer at Aspire and pulled the strings to make it happen. Host nation Qatar is staying in another part of the sprawling facility, as is Ghana.
Australia has access to two training pitches — the grass in such immaculate condition it’s hard to see how the World Cup venues themselves will be an improvement. An expansive gym sits right next to the pitch.
Inside there are treatment rooms, various communal areas and a players room where Socceroos spend up to two hours a day playing pool, table tennis, air hockey and FIFA. Martin Boyle is supposedly the resident pool shark and Aziz Behich the FIFA king — or at least he talks the biggest game.
While there had been suggestions there would be dormitory-style accommodation, the players have seperate rooms. Not all have to share though and seniority talks – skipper Mat Ryan and Aaron Mooy have their own, side-by-side. Jackson Irvine and Behich are also flying solo. Mathew Leckie and Boyle probably would have had their own too but opted to pair up. Garang Kuol and Jason Cummins are staying together to bring a slice to Gosford to Doha but it’s not exactly twin share – players have their own rooms inside what is effectively a small apartment (see full list of roommates below).
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Even more of a social hub than the games room is the cafe, where the Socceroos have their own barista, Alexia. It’s, unsurprisingly, been a massive hit with the players, some of whom take their coffee very seriously — striker Jamie Maclaren kicking off a trend with his elaborate order of a ‘magic’.
“It’s essentially a double Ristretto, three-quarter-full latte,” says Alexia, who makes up to 70 coffees a day for players and staff. “Everyone’s hooked on them now. It’s the most popular drink so far. “
With their own long-serving chef making food and access to more medical facilities at the nearby Aspetar hospital, the Socceroos have everything they need when it comes to functionality and comfort.
But the true secret weapon in the eyes of Australia’s Performance Director Paddy Steinfort? Proximity.
Nothing in the venue is more than a couple of minutes apart — players can literally walk from their rooms to the training pitch in under one.
It’s priceless, Steinfort says, when you consider many other nations are spending accumulated hours travelling from accommodation to training and carrying out all security measures that come with it.
“Time is the most valuable resource when we’ve only got seven days to build for an opponent like France and normally we have a full month of camps and getting ready,” Steinfort said.
“Time is a scarce resource that we don’t have to waste and so we’re saving two hours every day just by being here. That’s already a huge advantage.”
The other big advantage, he says, is the seclusion, with things expected to get hectic in Doha in the coming days.
“It is a calming space,” Steinfort said.
“We know it might feel at times in the build-up a little bit too quiet, but once you get out there amongst the noise, it’s going to be a very good refuge to come back to and just be settling back in and recovering after each of our exposures to the amazing event that is the World Cup.”
Players ultimately have no reason to leave their compound and it doesn’t appear there’s any FOMO about the Doha ‘buzz’ on the outside – players declined one of two team events planned on their day off training on Friday.
“They wanted to just relax and enjoy the atmosphere, the environment we have here,” Steinfort said.
“So it’s not as big a concern for them as it might have been for groups in the past.
“And I don’t think we’re going to miss out on that in any way, shape or form.
“Where we are, we can see the stadium over the back of our facility here where there’ll be a game on Monday, there’ll be a huge roar and there’ll be no doubt that we’re involved in something special before we even get to our match.”
SOCCEROOS ROOMMATES – WHO IS SHARING WITH WHO
Mat Ryan (own room)
Aaron Mooy (own room)
Jackson Irvine (own room)
Aziz Behich (own room)
Martin Boyle/Mat Leckie
Harry Souttar/Riley McGree
Milos Degenek/Fran Karacic
Andrew Redmayne/Joel King
Awer Mabil/Thomas Deng
Jason Cummings/Garang Kuol
Jamie Maclaren/Craig Goodwin
Ajdin Hrustic/Cam Devlin
Nate Atkinson/Kye Rowles
Keanu Baccus/Bailey Wright
Mitch Duke/Danny Vukovic