Hearts midfielder Nathaniel Atkinson has big plans at home and abroad after joining international 'club'
Describing his inclusion in Graham Arnold’s squad as the fulfilment of “a dream”, the 22-year-old can’t wait to join up with his peers for the vital double-header, which also includes a match against Saudi Arabia.
“My earliest memories of the Socceroos was at the World Cup [in 2006], playing Japan [the Aussies won that group game 3-1] and funnily enough we are now playing Japan in the first game, so to have an opportunity is an amazing thing.
"Coming from little old Tassie, the last Tasmanian to represent the Socceroos was in 1998 [Dominic Longo] , so it would be good to hopefully become the newest member of that club.
“I know I was close in the past but I have been unlucky to have broken down with injury. I was injured for three months in Australia before the Olympics as well.
“I've always been in amongst it but to finally get called in officially, and be fit and healthy, is exciting.”
The team go into the last two qualifiers for Qatar 2022 knowing that a play-off berth is already secured but looking for more.
"Yeah, it's do or die. If we get two wins we go automatically to the World Cup. But these are the games you want to be a part of. To have the chance to send your country to the World Cup, there's nothing but exciting times ahead.”
Cammy Devlin had also been tipped for a call-up but injury sidelined him. With so much still to aim for at club and international leave, Atkinson said it is up to him and his colleagues to do the business in the meantime. For Australia that means booking their place at the finals and hoping that they can both earn a place in the plane.
“That's the ideal goal, isn't it?” said the right-back. "I definitely do feel for him. I think he would have been in the team if he hadn't broken down with the injury.
"To be fair, he had nothing but good thoughts for me. He was disappointed but he's a big boy and everything happens for a reason. He'll be looking to be there next time."
But it is not just Australia who have big plans, Hearts, who play host to Livingston today, are looking to wrap up a positive season with tangible rewards, including a Scottish Cup win and a prolonged run in Europe next term. Defeating rivals Hibs in the semi final would guarantee them the latter and move them one step closer to the former.
But, no-one is ignoring the home derby that will serve as a precursor.
"The carrot dangling in front of us is the chance of playing European football next season. That's been the driving factor in training every day. We all want to compete in Europe and if we finish third and play our best football in the cup as well, it gives us the best chance of doing that.
“Two derbies in two weekends doesn't come round too often. But I think the best way to go into them is to continue our form in the league and build up to those games."
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