The recent match against Japan clearly showed Australia’s weakness in attack on the night. But if better players had been selected, they could have posed much more of a threat.
Just more than two years ago when Mat Ryan was on the verge of his European move to Club Brugge from the A-League’s Central Coast Mariners, the Socceroos goalkeeper gave an interview in which he described his ‘no-frills’ lifestyle to a journalist.
Then just 21, Ryan explained how he felt his simple existence – which included living in a caravan with close friend and teammate Bernie Ibini – had helped him reach the heights of Australia’s top flight and earn widespread recognition among the international football family at such a tender age.
Indeed, the tunnel-visioned Ryan stated that he had no time to party, and no intention to fall into a trap that he believed had cost plenty of his former state side teammates their crack at life in the pro leagues.
Ibini, Ryan said, shared his focus, meaning the duo could happily find comfort and concentration in their cosy caravan even in the lead-up to their biggest of matches with the Mariners.
Remarkably, this European summer Ryan and Ibini are set to reunite at club level after two seasons apart – something Asian Cup winning custodian Ryan described aptly as surreal.
“It’s been a surreal journey that we have had together,” Ryan told The Roar from Sydney where he is currently enjoying a month-long break – his first in three years.
“It’s very rare that you hear of professional players that get to play with one of their best mates.
“We got to represent our country together, we got to play at our first professional club together, and now to be playing together at an overseas club, and a big club at that, I think will be pretty special.
“It will be another fortunate moment for me having Bernie in Brugge, and hopefully likewise for him having me there … hopefully it can lead to some more lifelong memories that we can share together.”
Unlike Ryan, Ibini, most recently with Sydney FC in the A-League, is already in Belgium preparing for the Blue-Black’s 2015-16 domestic and continental campaigns.
In fact, Ibini made his uncompetitive club debut in the second half of a friendly 10-0 hammering of second-tier KFC Heist last Friday, and may feature more for his new side over the coming weeks as Brugge play practice matches against Torhout KM, KSV Roeselare, Greek giants Panathinaikos, and Turkish Süper Lig club Basaksehir.
Having displayed some stunning form for club and country since his arrival in Belgium, there remains the very real prospect that an even bigger European club from an even bigger European league could swoop for Ryan – who is contracted to Club Brugge until 2018 – in the current transfer window.
But should a shift away from the Jan Breydel Stadium not eventuate over the coming weeks, Ryan will return to Brugge in mid-July ready to again not only team up, but also live with his former Westfields Sports High schoolmate.
Suffice to say this time the pair will be in more stylish, yet nonetheless homely, digs.
“He [Ibini] is at my apartment now,” Ryan said. “Depending on what happens in the summer, if I am to stay at Club Brugge, then we have already been planning the season in finding a new, bigger house.
“My apartment at the moment has two bedrooms, so we want to have a spare room for visitors who might come over.
“We’ll be living a little more luxurious as opposed to the caravan, but hopefully we’ll still have the same good times like we had at the caravan.
“Fingers crossed the house can be a nice, warm, comforting place for us to relax, and I guess enable and help us to perform.
“Obviously we’re not quite there yet, but I can’t help but dream of the little moments of success that we’ll have in this year coming up. Hopefully we can win plenty of games, some silverware, and have plenty of great moments to share again with our friendship.”
Having been named Belgian Pro League Goalkeeper of the Year in each of his first two seasons with Michel Preud’homme’s men, Ryan fully understands and appreciates the level required to compete consistently and earn applause in Belgium’s top tier of football.
Ryan believes Ibini – whose arrival Belgian media covered comprehensively – has the right skills and mindset to succeed during his three-season spell with the 13-time league champions.
“Belgian football is quite open and free-flowing,” Ryan explained. “In the game time Bernie will get I think he will be able to show a lot of his attacking qualities, taking on players and hopefully getting into a lot of space to do what he does best.
“Bernie’s signing was in the media a lot. When it first surfaced I had all the journos contacting me and asking if it’s true, asking my opinion on Bernie and what he can do.
“Hopefully he can become one of the fan favourites with some good performances.”
Ryan and Ibini could team up for their first shot at silverware with Club Brugge as early as July 17 when the side from West Flanders make a short trip to East Flanders to take on KAA Gent in the 2015 Belgian Super Cup.