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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 23 September 2017
26 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 23 SEPTEMBER 2017 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Socceroos star Alex Gersbach: my massive year Socceroo star Alex Gersbach has capped off a remarkable year by being awarded the PFA Harry Kewell medal CON STAMOCOSTAS Since the Greek - Australian moved to Europe to play in Norway with powerhouse club Rosenborg the 20-year old's career has been filled with a number international and club achievements. After moving from Sydney FC to Rosenberg two years ago the Greek Australian left back has won a League and Cup double and played in the Champions and Europa League. Gersbach is in his second season in Norway's Tippeligaen and is in line to win his second league title as the Trondheim-based club leads the league by seven points. In August, the Sydney-born youngster was part of Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou's Confederations Cup squad and earlier this month Gersbach featured for Australia in their World Cup qualifying match against Thailand in Melbourne. Speaking to Neos Kosmos from his base in Trondheim, Gersbach says it was an honour to receive the Professional Footballers’ Association award which is named after one of his idols. "It's really special to be recognised for your achievements," he says. "It's a massive honour to be named the Under-23 player of the year in Australia. I was told a couple of weeks ago by the PFA and my mum and dad went up to the ceremony in Newcastle this week so it was really good." Gersbach added, "The 2016/17 season was a great year for me at Rosenborg and with the national team and this honour has made it even more so." Gersbach made his debut for the Australian national team in June last year against the Greeks, the heritage of his mother, but had to wait almost 12 months for his next Socceroos appearance. That came in August via the Confederations Cup which was held in Russia. The tournament was a warm-up for next year's World Cup and featured the champions from each FIFA confederation. In the national team Gersbach competes for the left back and wing back position with Brad Smith who plays in the English Premier League with Bournemouth. Of late it is Smith who has been playing regularly for Australia and initially Gersbach did not make the squad for Russia. But when Smith got injured on the eve of the Confederations Cup, Gersbach received a late call-up to the Australian squad and the youngster only found out while he was on holiday on the Greek island of Santorini. Looking back on his experience playing for Australia at one of football's major tournaments, Gersbach says he was delighted to be involved in Postecoglou's squad again. "It was really good for me, to be called up to the Confederations Cup and get some game time," he says. "I got my third cap for Australia so that was really special for me to play in a big tournament like that. It was really good to be involved with the Socceroos at a Confederations Cup and it just motivates me more to make the World Cup in Russia next year." The Socceroos’ first game in the Confederation Cup was against current World Cup winners Germany, but Gersbach was an unused substitute in that match, but then started the following game against African champions, Cameroon. After a year away from the national team, Gersbach played a full 90 minutes and his performance received high praise from the media. The youngster says he was pleased with his display. "I was happy," he says. "It was a challenging game to play against the champions of Africa and then of course we played against Germany and Chile. I think we did well there and it was good to be involved." Earlier in the month Gersbach was again called up to the Socceroos squad. This time Australia took on Japan and Thailand in the final two games of their World Cup qualifying campaign. With only the top two nations in the group gaining automatic qualification to the World Cup, Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia were in contention. The Socceroos needed a draw away to their Japanese opponents and a win at home to secure direct entry to Russia 2018 otherwise finishing in third place meant going through a playoff scenario. Again, Gersbach was left out of the starting line-up and Australia went with Brad Smith at left wing back and lost the game 2-0. With Smith caught out in defence for Japan's first goal, Postecoglou recalled Gersbach for the match against Thailand which was played in Melbourne a few days later. In their final World Cup qualifying group game Australia needed a big win to ensure they finished above Saudi Arabia in their group as Japan had qualified after beating the Socceroos. However, the match proved bittersweet because even though Australia won 2-1, Saudi Arabia's narrow win against Japan in their final group game meant it was the Arab nation who qualified directly. Gersbach says not being assured a place in Russia on the night was hard to take. "It was great to be involved in that game, but it was a little disappointing we didn't get the result that we needed," he says. "Of course it's always special to play for Australia and it was good to be called up for the World Cup qualifiers. It was still a win and a good performance, but not quite enough to get us automatic qualification which is disappointing." For Australia to qualify for next year's World Cup it must navigate two consecutive two-leg play-offs, the first is against Syria next month then a North American opponent in November. Gersbach has already been called up to Postecoglou's 30-player squad for the Syria games and the 20-yearold is hoping the Aussies can eventually progress to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. "We have four games to really do well in, win and go to the World Cup," he says. "That's what we're focused on. It's a World Cup and it's very tough to qualify. That's what a lot of people don't understand. Now we must do it the tough way and we'll make the most of that. It's four do-or-die matches and it's a lot of pressure on us. That's the way the Socceroos like it. It's going to be tough but we'll get there in the end." Meanwhile Gersbach's second season in Europe has been a challenge as Rosenberg signed a new left back in Birger Meling in February and the 20-year-old has only played in half the clubs games. However, he is determined to nail down a regular first team spot. "Obviously my second season hasn't been as great as I would have hoped," he says. "I want to play every game and be involved, but that hasn't been the case which is a little bit disappointing. I've just got to keep working hard and be ready when I get called upon. "It's tough when you're not playing week in week out, when you're not sure if you're going to play or not. It's not the best situation. All I can do is make sure that when I do get the chance I'm ready and I play well and keep training well and keep working hard."
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