Milligan benefits from Asian experience

BANGKOK: Home grown Qantas Socceroo Mark Milligan made an outstanding case for a permanent Asian Cup starting berth against Thailand on Monday, and has attributed his exceptional adaptation to the Socceroo back line to his vast Asian experience.

BANGKOK: Home grown Qantas Socceroo Mark Milligan made an outstanding case for a permanent Asian Cup starting berth against Thailand on Monday, and has attributed his exceptional adaptation to the back line to his vast Asian experience.

One of four players currently camped in south-east Asia to have played in last season-s Hyundai A-League competition; Milligan has experienced more of Asia than many of his Qantas Socceroo team mates - certainly in recent months.

Through his involvement with Sydney FC-s inaugural tilt at the AFC Champions League, and his role as captain of the Australian Under 23-s representation that is currently engaged in qualification for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Milligan has frequented as many as ten Asian destinations over the past year.

In such time, Milligan has developed a priceless understanding of the new world that has so fascinated Australia-s footballers - the same understanding that was very much lacking from the Socceroos- opening two Group A fixtures.

"I think the biggest help for me was understanding the referees," said Milligan of his experience in Asia.

"Good or bad, you take their calls and I think dealing with that over the last six months has helped me a hell of a lot.

"They do take adapting to, simply because they referee differently to England, as England referee different to us, it-s something you need to get used to and I think in that sense I was lucky, I was able to focus more on the game other than what the decisions were around me.

"I was glad that Arnie gave me a chance and that I repaid him with a decent game."

Following the retirements of Tony Popovic and Tony Vidmar, who were the mainstays of the Socceroo backline for the past decade, coupled with the Asian Cup non-appearance of 2006 FIFA World Cup standout Craig Moore, Milligan-s showcase against Thailand demonstrated his desire to permanently fill the most pressing void in Australia-s starting eleven.

Though capped at senior international level previously, the Australian Under 23-s lynchpin had yet to feature with any regularity for the Socceroos since his in inclusion in Australia-s squad in Germany last year, at least prior to Monday-s match.

But, with Lucas Neill-s sending off against Iraq came an opportunity for the 21-year-old to prove his worth on the world stage - and that he did with an assertive, assured and generally amazing performance against one of the Asian Cup-s most unpredictable front lines.

Along with central defensive partner Michael Beauchamp, another standout performer against Thailand and fellow Hyundai A-League Grand Finalist, Milligan introduced a discipline to the Australian defence that has seldom been seen at these championships.

Such discipline will be an invaluable asset to the Socceroo back line when they line up against regional heavyweights Japan in Hanoi on Saturday, with Milligan again at an advantage, having matched up against four of the Japanese squad sourced from Saitama-based Urawa Reds in this years AFC Champions League.

"Japan are a great side, we probably would have liked to have met them later in the tournament, but as things have worked out, we-re meeting them in the first game of the next round," said Milligan.

"We-re back on the rails now, we played some good football against Thailand, but we-ve still got a little bit of work to do get ourselves right to do the job on Saturday.

"If we didn-t play ourselves into form against Thailand, we were going home, this was a do or die game for us, we had to put our hands up and be counted and we did - winning is a habit and we-re heading that way."

Reigning Asian Cup champions Japan now stand between Australia and a semi final berth, with the Socceroos set to take on their nemeses of one year ago at Hanoi-s My Dinh Stadium this coming Saturday, 21 July. Kick off is at 8.20pm AEST.

Fox Sports will feature live and exclusive coverage of the match from 8pm AEST. Click here for the entire Fox Sports broadcast schedule.