Jamie Maclaren has revealed how he refused to believe his World Cup dream was over, packing a pair of boots as he went on holiday to Dubai despite failing to make Australia’s squad.
The on-loan Hibs striker was left deflated as missing out despite scoring a hat-trick as the Easter Road club ended their season with a thrilling 5-5 draw against Rangers, taking his tally to eight in a green-and-white shirt after arriving on loan from German outfit Darmstadt with the stated intention of being on the Socceroos flight to Russia.
Maclaren’s goals against Rangers were screened throughout Australia and his omission from the 26-man national squad was met with disbelief Down Under where he was regarded as his country’s most in-form forward.
But his dejection turned to joy as Aussie coach Bert van Marwijk, faced with an injury worry over striker Tomi Juric, drafted him in to their training camp in Turkey, the 24-year-old impressing sufficiently to make the final 23-man squad which will face France, Denmark and Peru in the coming weeks.
As disappointed as he was, Maclaren kept his fitness ticking over in the sunshine “just in case”, revealing: “I actually packed a pair of boots to Dubai. As a footballer you have to be prepared for any situation and for me I was on holiday having breakfast and I got the call saying, ‘you might need to be on the next flight to Turkey.’
“I would rather be here than sitting on a sun lounger in Dubai. For me it’s something I have worked so hard for. World Cups don’t come around too often. I watched them as a kid and to say I’ve been a part of a World Cup squad is a proud achievement for family and myself.
“For me it’s a major relief and feels like a caravan is taken off your back because of all that hard work, graft and disappointment mentally – it builds up. Thankfully I’m here and it’s just great to be involved.”
Dutchman Van Marwijk admitted Maclaren had impressed during his week in Turkey, the former Brisbane Roar hitman featuring as a second-half substitute in a 4-0 demolition of the Czech Republic to seal his place ahead of the Socceroos’ final warm-up match against Hungary in Budapest this weekend.
Van Marwijk said: “It was difficult for him because he was already on vacation for eight or nine days. I wanted to give him a real chance he had to train very hard from the first moment. We train very intensively and often two times a day. It was really difficult for him, not really fair for him.
“But he made a good impression, I think I need him.”
Maclaren’s late call-up grabbed all the headlines – and the opportunity for his goals against Rangers to be shown again on Australian television – and adamant his fitness is now “100 per cent” again, he is equally confident he can carry on the red-hot form he displayed for Neil Lennon’s side on the world’s biggest stage, feeling his type of game, playing off the shoulders of defenders to use his speed could prove to be a huge asset in Russia.
Pointing out how he scored for Hibs against Rangers, with Portugal’s Bruno Alves in their side, and Celtic, complete with Belgium’s Dedryck Boyata, he said: “I’m probably the sort of player that can pop up out of nowhere in the box and get that goal.
“Sometimes in tournament football or international football, all it takes is one chance to win the game. I like to think I’ve scored in some big games this year and I’ve played against some big name defenders.
“Alves is in the Portugal squad, Boyata is in the Belgium squad and I’ve been able to go up against them and score. It gives me confidence and I think Bert has seen the quality I can bring and when a coach gives you that kind of confidence, it grows within you as a player.”
And that confidence, insisted Maclaren, flows through the Aussie camp, claiming the win over the Czech Republic has sent out a message to their rivals at the World Cup.
He said: “Czech Republic are a good European country but we went out, stamped our authority, controlled the game thoroughly, took our chances and 4-0 is a comfortable win in international football.
“It doesn’t happen very often but I think it shows don’t under-estimate us and if you do we can punish you.”
Australia are considered rank outsiders to send shock waves through world football by winning the competition, odds of 750-1 being offered against such an outcome with only Tunisia, Panama and Saudi Arabia “enjoying” greater odds – but Maclaren still believes they can be a threat.
He told the Caltex Socceroos website: “It’s probably a cliche, but it’s the Aussie spirit. People can say you’re not the side with the most ability, but at the end of the day we believe in ourselves.
“When we come together in camp you can see everybody’s laughing and joking around. At meal time, some boys don’t even want to leave the room because you’re having such good chat.
“That’s important as a team, and when you’ve got a coaching staff of the highest quality, it breeds confidence and we believe in each other.”