A soccer player who started out as a junior in the Bega Valley has been included in a 24 man squad to represent Australia’s under 23 Men’s side at a European training camp that will impact their 2024 Olympic preparations.
Former Merimbula Grasshopper, now Wellington Pheonix defender, Lucas Mauragis, was one of just only fifteen in Australia’s squad, chosen from the A-league.
The 21-year-old told East Coast Radio he was thrilled to be heading to Italy in a fortnight.
“I’ve been called up for the national training camp,” Mauragis said.
“This selection means a lot to me and my family, some of whom are still on the South Coast,” he said.
“It shows that the commitment and sacrifices that I’ve made over the years are paying off.”
He said there are many people on the South Coast he could thank for helping him get to where he is, but there was one standout.
“My dad, I wouldn’t be a footballer if it wasn’t for him, and all of the early mornings he put in, kicking the ball around with me,” Mauragis said.
The South Coast local moved to the Wellington Phoenix on loan for one year, in mid 2022, after being signed by the Newcastle Jets on a two year deal.
“I wanted to get to Wellington for the experience and the opportunity to develop myself as a player,” Mauragis said.
The move across the ditch seems to have paid off with Mauragis having a career best season for the “Nix”, with the team currently sitting in 5th position on the A-League table, just one win outside of the top four.
The European training camp is set to take place during the upcoming FIFA men’s International window from 20 – 28 March.
“The camp is located at the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) European Training Centre in Italy and we’ll be playing two matches there,” Mauragis said.
As part of the nine-day camp, the Olyroos will play two friendly matches against quality opposition in the form of the Switzerland U-20 national team in Bellinzona, Switzerland on Friday, 24 March (7.00pm local time) and Serie B outfit, Como 1907 (venue TBC) on Monday, 27 March (3.00pm local).
The Olyroos have an important seven months ahead, with the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qatar 2024™ Qualifiers scheduled for 4 – 12 September 2023, and if the team progresses, the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qatar 2024™ in early 2024 (dates to be confirmed by AFC) which double as Paris 2024 Olympics™ qualifiers.
Comprising of fifteen footballers from the A-League Men’s competition and nine overseas-based players, this is Tony Vidmar’s first squad since being appointed Olyroos’ Head Coach.
“We have selected an exciting squad of 24-players for this camp in Italy, which is reward for their strong performances in the A-League Men’s competition and their respective club sides overseas,” Vidmar told footballaustralia.com.au.
“As a squad, we only have a small window of time to prepare for our AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers, with this camp being one of only two we will have prior to September. So, this time will be an important opportunity for the players we’ve not seen for some time to impress the coaching staff for future selection,” said Vidmar.
The Olyroos will come together again from 2 – 18 June, when they contest the Maurice Revello Tournament 2023 in Aix-en-Provence, France.
That event features twelve U-23 national men’s teams from five confederations, where it’s expected that Australia will play at least four matches across the 16-days, providing ideal tournament preparation ahead of the September qualifiers.
The draw for the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qatar 2024™ qualifiers is set to take place in May.
Image: Wellington Pheonix, Lucas Mauragis