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Jun 11, 2013

A-League plays its role for Socceroos

Perhaps there is symbolism in the fact an A-League player has gone past a soon-to-be English Premier League player in the race to control the Socceroos midfield.

The relative strengths of the eight-year-old domestic competition against those elsewhere are hard to quantify.

But it is worth noting that six of the starting 11, and 16 of the 23-man Socceroos squad in action in Melbourne on Tuesday night were either graduates of, or play in, the A-League.

Mark Milligan appears to have cemented his spot ahead of Crystal Palace's Mile Jedinak after coach Holger Osieck's biggest selection dilemma was resolved in the Melbourne Victory player's favour.

His superb displays against Japan and Jordan in the 4-0 Etihad Stadium rout helped put the Socceroos on the cusp of World Cup qualification.

Milligan admits the combination of pressure from a fully-fit squad, the uncertainty of team selection and the ultimate prize of going to Brazil is an intoxicating mix that has everyone currently performing at their peak.

"We have to be at our best every day, because we're never sure what's going to happen tomorrow," Milligan said.

"It was a little bit surprising (to keep a starting place) to be honest, because it's been seven or eight weeks since I played, and I'm feeling a lot better now than I did after Japan fitness-wise.

"Everybody's fit and raring to go. I've just got to keep doing whatever it is the last few weeks that's impressed Holger and we'll see what's happens in the last match."

A-League players including Milligan and skipper Lucas Neill were kept fit during a long break between the end of the season and the World Cup qualifiers with a brutal training camp which Neill described as "old-school".

Unusually, the three-week camp featured plenty of mornings training without a ball to build gut-busting fitness ahead of moving to Japan to kick off the stretch of World Cup qualifiers.

Now the finish line is close.

Milligan says despite the Jordan win, the fact the equation hasn't changed - victory against Iraq in Sydney next Tuesday is still required to get to Brazil - won't affect the players' outlook.

"We were looking at a win in every match, so our mindset won't change too much," he said.

"We've known it was always going to come down to the last match."

Defender Luke Wilkshire is more blunt in his assessment of what's required, and what the result against Jordan means in the big picture.

"Right now it's half a job done. It's one step forward, but next week, if we don't go and do the job it's all for nothing.

"We're fully focused, and you can see and feel the desire and determination within the team."

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