There is a proud list of Australian sporting legends: Don Bradman, John Eales, Dawn Fraser, Herb Elliott, Betty Cuthbert, Cathy Freeman, Rod Laver, Greg Norman, Ian Thorpe.
But to that august list you can now add another name – Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak.
With his long, bushy beard, reminiscent of another Australian legend – Ned Kelly – Jedinak was on fire at Stadium Australia, the sight of Freeman’s heroics 17-years previously.
If Australia had simply won, Jedinak would have been lauded for leading the nation to a fourth World Cup in succession. But to do it scoring a hat-trick (denied by a curious own-goal ruling) elevates him to the likes of Thorpe and Laver, if not perhaps Bradman.
There were even doubts the 33-year-old would even take the field last night in Sydney.
Jedinak’s year has been plagued by a persistent groin injury for which he had surgery in June.
He has only just recently got back on the park for his club, Aston Villa in England’s second tier, but played a valiant and crucial 90-minute role in Australia’s 0-0 draw with the Hondurans in San Pedro Sula on Saturday.
But having only played one other full game since April, the Socceroos qualifier against Saudi Arabia in Adelaide in June, doubts were high over his capacity to back up, especially given the long haul flight from Central America and the dodgy pitch upon which both teams played on the weekend. (Although it must be noted Sydney’s pride and joy didn’t look much better).
Australia have qualified for their fourth consecutive World Cup finals. Hat-trick hero Mile Jedinak!🇦🇺 pic.twitter.com/e6zOf27PPe
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) November 15, 2017
The fact that regular starter Mark Milligan, who was suspended for the first leg, was available would also have given Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou pause over whether to play “The Beard to be Feared”, as he is known by the Villa Park faithful.
But Postecoglou made the call – Jedinak got the start – and the rest, as they say, is history.
It all adds to the growing legend. Aussie sporting immortals don’t have to just do great things on the field they have to have the back story as well.
Bradman used to practice with a golf ball and stump against a water tank in the back-yard. Freeman overcame family tragedy losing a brother and a sister before winning Olympic gold.
Jedinak also has his own tale to tell. For starters his name isn’t even Mile – it’s Michael, but he shortened it because of his Croatian heritage.
“I was named ‘Michael John’ by my parents,” explains Jedinak, “but being of a Croatian heritage and growing up with grandparents who didn’t really speak a lot of English, everyone called me ‘Mile’.
“I just went with it. In football I played for Croatian background clubs, I just stuck with it.”
He started playing football in a competition between Catholic schools in Parramatta, in Sydney’s inner-west, and began his senior career playing for semi-pro Sydney United, formerly Sydney Croatia.
He played briefly for Croatian club Varteks, making one appearance in a 2003/04 UEFA Cup qualifier, before joining Central Coast Mariners in the A-League where worked his way into the international set-up.
In 2009 he moved to Turkish club Genclerbirligi before joining Crystal Palace, where he became a club legend leading them back to the Premier League in 2013.
Villa fans now hope he will keep his legendary status going when he gets back on the field for them.
England ended their 2017 fixtures with consecutive goalless draws against Germany and Brazil at Wembley.
Manager Gareth Southgate continued to formulate his plans for next summer’s World Cup across both games having sealed qualification earlier in the season.
Here’s a looks at the main talking points to emerge from the two recent friendlies.
SOUTHGATE PLAYING THE GENERATION GAME
While Southgate’s plan to give England youngsters a chance in the senior set-up is not new, his selections for the two glamorous Wembley friendlies certainly reiterated his ideals.
The likes of Chris Smalling, Jack Wilshere and Jermain Defoe will be all the more worried that their England careers are over – or at the very least stalling – as Southgate aims to implement his plans of promoting from the younger age groups.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Joe Gomez picked up the respective man of the match awards against Germany and Brazil while inexperienced players such as Dominic Solanke, Angus Gunn and Lewis Cook were also involved in the squad over the last few days.
THREE LIONS AT THE BACK
Southgate has seemingly settled on his formation for the future, naming three central defenders with wing-backs allowed to push forward.
Harry Maguire and John Stones looked solid in both friendlies and Gomez also came in to shine, while having players such as Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Ryan Bertrand and Kieran Trippier offer plenty of pace on the flanks.
The system also allows for two strikers and can accommodate creative players alongside the guile of Eric Dier in the middle of the park.
HART OVER HEAD IN THE RACE FOR THE GLOVES
Joe Hart now has 75 England caps and is a bonafide senior member of Southgate’s current squad.
The West Ham loanee has struggled at times this season but was recalled between the posts despite Jordan Pickford impressing on debut against Germany.
Now Southgate must decide if his largely inexperienced side need someone like Hart behind them or if Pickford, and Jack Butland, should now be given their chance to step up in competitive games.
ENGLAND NEED KANE IF THEY ARE TO BE ABLE IN ATTACK
Keeping two clean sheets against both the World champions and a team boasting the world’s most expensive player is not to be shirked at.
But at the other end of the pitch England struggled to create clear-cut chances, with Tammy Abraham, Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford not able to break the deadlock across both games.
Harry Kane was absent due to injury and this was further proof that, if England want to progress deeper into the World Cup next summer, the Tottenham striker is vital to Southgate’s attacking intentions.
SOUTHGATE NEEDS TO STICK TO YOUNG GUNS
While still trying to turn England into a big-hitter on the world stage, Southgate appears to be supported from those above him when it comes to taking time to develop and hone his precocious players.
Now, the England boss needs to maintain that stance when it comes to naming his World Cup squad next year, starting with the March friendlies against Holland and Italy.
There has been too much reliance in the past on taking experienced tournament campaigners to finals in place of exciting talent but this time it should be different as Southgate is gearing up to have a host of names ready for Russia.
— England (@England) November 14, 2017
Provided by Press Association Sport
Gareth Southgate has not been afraid to put his faith in youth since taking charge of England and guiding the Three Lions to the 2018 World Cup.
The England manager continued that policy for the two goalless draws against Germany and Brazil as he works on his master plan for Russia next summer.
Here’s a look at the young players given their chance in the senior England side since the start of the season.
The Tottenham midfielder had been waiting for his chance back at his club but grabbed his opportunity with both hands to earn his first England call-up for the World Cup qualifiers against Slovenia and Lithuania.
He started the latter and was a bright spark in a forgettable 1-0 win for the Three Lions with the 21-year-old impressing in possession. Injury forced him to miss the recent friendlies after he starred for Spurs in their two Champions League games against holders Real Madrid.
The Leicester defender could be installed as the elder statesman of recent debutants as he was handed his maiden cap at the age of 24.
Maguire started alongside fellow newcomer Winks in the win in Vilnius, retaining his place in Southgate’s back three for the recent friendly double-header where he played his part in keeping the World champions and the mighty Brazil at bay.
Pickford made his debut in Friday’s goalless stalemate with Germany, making a couple of impressive saves to keep Timo Werner out.
The Everton goalkeeper is another to roll off the England production line and was handed the gloves for his first cap despite his Everton side struggling in the Premier League and he proved his call-up was justified.
The 21-year-old midfielder felt he had to move away from Chelsea on loan this season to play regular first-team football and earned his senior debut after starring for a Crystal Palace side who sit bottom of the Premier League.
After a nervy first 10 minutes on his debut against Germany, Loftus-Cheek showed his class and grew into the international fold before picking up the man of the match award. His international week was marred as he was forced off in the first-half of the Brazil game with a back injury.
Another Chelsea loanee who has earned his senior England call-up while away from Stamford Bridge, Abraham has scored five goals at Swansea so far this season.
With Harry Kane out injured, the 20-year-old was handed a starting berth by Southgate for the Germany game. He struggled to make a similar impact to Loftus-Cheek but showed some promise and also came off the bench four days later against Brazil.
Similar to Winks at Tottenham, Gomez had to be patient to land a run of games in the Liverpool side despite being a regular fixture in the England youth teams.
The 20-year-old is now enjoying himself at Anfield and the defender came on for the injured Phil Jones against Germany before starting and earning the man-of-the-match accolade in the Brazil stalemate, playing his part in keeping Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and club-mate Philippe Coutinho quiet.
While Solanke has only played seven times in the Premier League, the Liverpool forward is highly thought of by Southgate and his staff and was called up for the Brazil friendly alongside Lewis Cook and Angus Gunn.
The former Chelsea youngster, 20, came off the bench in the latter stages and did enough to impress ex-England international Ian Wright, coming close to winning the game late on only to get the ball caught under his feet.
Provided by Press Association Sport