In October 2017, Keanu Baccus sat in the stands as Aaron Mooy inspired the Socceroos to a crucial World Cup qualifying play-off win over Syria.
More than six years later, Baccus is set to be entrusted with Mooy’s former role against the same opposition as a very-different looking Socceroos attempt to all-but-confirm their spot in the Asian Cup knockouts.
The stakes are simple: with one win already under Australia’s belt, progression would effectively be secured with victory at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on Thursday night (10.30pm AEDT).
“It’s still tournament football … we don’t get ahead of ourselves and think about further stages,” Baccus said.
“We’ll just take each game in the group stage as it comes and do our absolute best. That’s all we can really do.
“We can handle whatever comes our way. It’s going to be tough. It’s not easy to win any tournament of football, or any game of football.
“People think it’s easy – and it’s tough out on that pitch, but we’ll do our absolute best and control what we can control.
“I believe we can go all the way.”
Judging by the approach they faced against India in game one, the Socceroos will need to work hard to break down Syria’s midfield and defensive lines.
With club side St Mirren, who sit fifth in the Scottish Premiership, Baccus has plenty of experience attempting to break down deep-lying defences – and being part of them against giants Celtic and Rangers.
“It’s tough. As a footballer, you don’t want to expose yourself and create big spaces for the opposition to do well in,” he said.
“They’re quality players that you’re playing against.
“I’ve been on both sides as a footballer. We’ve just got to have patience.”
Mooy – who came off the bench to energise the Socceroos in that nail-biting Syria clash in 2017 – played alongside Baccus at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
He retired last year, giving the 25-year-old Baccus the chance to make a place of his own in Australia’s midfield.
“Azza (Mooy) is a different class,” Baccus said.
“I only probably fully realised once I started playing with him and came into camps.
“Playing in the other team in training against him, you realised how much class he had.
“I’m trying to be myself and invent my own style, but in terms of his legacy, he will live on forever for the Socceroos.
“He was a great player (who I was) grateful to learn off for the last few games that he played and I was at the World Cup with him.”
A strong performance at the Asian Cup could put Baccus, who has six months left on his St Mirren contract, and his teammates in the shop window for his next club move.
But he has unfinished business first.
“I just want to enjoy that moment, because if you get away from that sometimes you get some added pressures and that is not great for you as a footballer,” Baccus said.
“I just want to take each game as it comes and do our absolute best for my family, for my country, and express what I can do as a player.”
AUSTRALIA v SYRIA
When: Thursday, January 18, 10.30pm AEDT
Where: Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, Doha, Qatar
World rankings: Australia 25, Syria 91
Head-to-head: Played 3. Australia 2 wins, 1 draw, 0 losses
Most recent meeting:
15/01/19: Australia 3-2 (Asian Cup group stage – Al Ain, UAE)