Socceroos face 'tough day at the office'

FORMER Socceroo and Sporting Gijon defender Andrew Bernal says Australia’s 2014 World Cup draw is what dreams are made of and the players should go out to shock the world.

Bernal made 21 appearances for Australia and was the first Socceroo to ever play in Spain, one of the Socceroos’ group opponents in Brazil along with Chile and the Netherlands.

Bernal, who is of Spanish heritage, spent three years in Spain playing for Xerez, Sporting Gijon and on loan to Albacete Balompie in the 1980s.

The Socceroos will face Spain, the defending World Cup champions and winner of the past two European Championships in a row, in their final group match on June 23.

I think it is wonderful,” Bernal said. “To play against three of the greatest ever football nations on the biggest stage, the World Cup, is what dreams are made of for the players and fans alike.

"It will certainly be tough but we are under no pressure to get through a very tough group, so it’s a win-win for the boys.

"I’m sure Ange will have them well prepared physically, mentally and tactically the rest, only time will tell, but I’d be sending them out with the message enjoy yourselves and shock the world.”

A fluent Spanish speaker, Bernal has spent several years living in the European country and knows its football culture intimately.

“I’m sure the Spanish fans will see us as an easy win but I’m sure the Spanish players, although being quietly confident in their abilities and past success, will know that they will need to work hard to beat an opponent with nothing to lose and much to gain,” he said.

“They will cover all bases with a World Cup at stake. Spain is a wonderful and beautiful country with a football history and culture second to none.

"I signed for Sporting Gijon at 18 straight from the AIS and I quickly became aware of how good every player was technically, even defenders.

"The kids were intense, disciplined and worked hard in every drill in every practice, all tactically very aware having been drilled from a young age but all of them were also great athletes with an even greater desire to win at all costs.

"They love to play beautiful passing football but will fight to the death if required, that's the mentality.

“It was an education in itself but I felt at home and adapted quickly. By age 20 I had played 70 matches in Spain at Gijon and whilst on loan to Albacete and Xerez FC against all the big clubs.

"Those two seasons certainly made me a better player and allowed for an easy transition into England where I was signed by Brian Clough of Nottingham Forest.”

A Canberra product and graduate of the AIS, Bernal spent a large part of his career playing for Sydney Olympic and Reading after his early stint in Spain.

He later returned to the country to work as David Beckham’s Spanish representative when the England star was signed by Real Madrid.

While Australian footballers have carved out careers across Europe over the years, including leagues in England, Germany and Italy, only a handful have made it playing in Spain.

Apart from Bernal, John Aloisi spent seven years with Osasuna and Alaves, and Aurelio Vidmar had a season with Tenerife.

David Carney also made a handful of appearances for Segunda Division side AD Alcorcon.

“Spanish teams don't really go looking for Australian talent,” Bernal said. “To be honest they don't rate us that highly.

"I was lucky that the AIS played against Real Madrid’s youth team in Germany and their coaches at the time Vincent Del Bosque and Jose Antonio Grande offered me a trial at Real, which led to me signing for Gijon.

"John Aloisi and Aurelio Vidmar were already established in Europe so it was easier moving into Spain from there.

“I believe both John and Aurelio, and myself adapted to playing in Spain because of our ability, but also because of our backgrounds. For me I spoke Spanish, my parents are both Spanish and I have family in Spain.

"For them, their Italian background, which is very similar to Spanish, allowed for easier integration into the society on all levels.”

Bernal, who is now a football agent, has remained in contact with del Bosque and the 47-year old believes the ex-Real Madrid and Besiktas manager will leave no stone unturned in his preparation for the Socceroos.

A true gentleman, a great manager but an even greater man whose players will go the extra mile for,” he said.   

“Vicente is a winner he will have his team well prepared, nothing left to chance, chasing lost causes, pressurizing, quickly winning the ball back on the few occasions they don't have it and then using it like they do with world class precision. 

"It will be a tough day at the office but one I know our boys will relish.”