Socceroos midfielder Riley McGree will be hoping to continue his stellar form when his side meets Argentina in Beijing this Thursday night.
McGree and a few of his Australian teammates arrived in China over the past week, as they look to take on the reigning World Champions Argentina in preparations for January’s AFC Asian Cup.
Named as a starter for the Socceroos in every match throughout their successful run at last year’s World Cup, the 24-year-old played a pivotal part in getting out of the group stages, something the nation has managed on just one other occasion.
It was in Australia’s 1-0 upset over Denmark where McGree really shone, assisting for Matthew Leckie’s 60th-minute winner, confirming the Aussie’s a spot in the knockout stages of the competition.
Head Coach Graham Arnold selected a fairly youthful 23-man squad to take of the Argentinians, including the Italian-born Parma defender, who elected to play for Australia only a couple of weeks ago, being one of five selected players to be 22 years old or younger.
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Although there may be younger, more inexperienced players called up to the squad to take on Argentina, Riley McGree doesn’t think that will stop them from playing any differently:
“I’d like to think you can expect a bit more of a younger group”, McGree said.
“A young, vibrant atmosphere in and around the group and I don’t think anything will change in terms of the spirit, how we play and what’s expected of each other.
“I think it’ll be, mainly all normal, but there will be a bit of a younger spark maybe to it.”
The Aussies play England in October before kicking off their AFC Asian Cup group stage against India in January, which will undoubtedly see players want to get on the good side of Coach Arnold during friendly matches.
“You know, everyone’s always in the eye of Arnie and the coaching staff and we want to perform, we want to play well”, McGree noted.
“Not only for others but for ourselves and put our best foot forward, to give ourselves the best opportunity to play for the country and do the country proud.”
Although falling just short of an English Premier League promotion with Middlesbrough in the season gone by, McGree had a positive season personally, picking up nine goal involvements in 45 Championship games.
McGree hopes the number of games played throughout last season will help him improve as a player going forward.
“I think playing so many games in the championship, in football in general, can only make you a stronger player and a more consistent player”, he said.
“That’s definitely something that I’ve aimed to be, is more consistent, a bit more mature, a bit more of a leader and step up in big games.
“Hopefully I can continue to show that and continue to learn day in, day out and week in week out.”
Middlesbrough received a lot of praise for their style under manager Michael Carrick, with the internal belief shown at the club being one of the key aspects, and something both Middlesbrough and the Australian side have in common, according to McGree.
“I think there was just an overriding belief from Michael Carrick at the club and all the coaching staff and each other”, he said.
“I think there’s a very, well, there’s a lot of similarities here in the national team.
“At the end of the day, I strongly believe that confidence plays a massive part in the way individuals play and teams play.”
Although Australia came up short against the Argentinians in their Round of 16 clash at the World Cup, Riley believes the team took lessons away from the match that could help them on Thursday:
“We learned a lot and took a lot away from that, we’re coming here looking forward to testing ourselves again and going on the pitch and giving our best performance”, he said.
“I remember it being a bit of a roller coaster, they had a bit of momentum early on and then towards the end of the game, we were kind of pushing and if it wasn’t for a world-class save and world-class players they’ve got, maybe the game would have swayed a different way and the outcome would have been different.”
Riley McGree and the Socceroos take on the World Champions Argentina this Thursday night at the Beijing Workers Stadium.
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