Home » ‘He’ll choose the Socceroos’: Aussie great bullish on football prodigy amid Italy dilemma

‘He’ll choose the Socceroos’: Aussie great bullish on football prodigy amid Italy dilemma

A new Aussie city is coming for Melbourne’s crown as the sporting capital of the world.

Melbourne boasts the Australian Open, Formula One Grand Prix, the Boxing Day Test match along with spring staples the AFL Grand Final and the Melbourne Cup.

Adelaide has thrown its hat into the ring too, hosting the AFL’s Gather Round, the only LIV Golf event in Australia and other events including this year’s Super Netball final.

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But Perth is slowly making a play, hosting its fair share of major sporting events in recent times.

The West Australian capital hosted a bumper UFC card last year when Alex Volkanovski came agonisingly close to beating Islam Makhachev.

UFC will return to Perth in August for UFC 305, with a blockbuster fight between Israel Adesanya and Dricus Du Plessis rumoured for the main event.

The 60,000 capacity Optus Stadium played host to the WWE’s Elimination Chamber in February, giving Aussie wrestlers Rhea Ripley and Grayson Waller a rare chance to perform Down Under.

The Matildas also won three Olympic qualifiers in Perth late last year.

It’s not just sport where Perth is making inroads. Chris Martin’s Coldplay played a one-off exclusive show there in November before announcing east coast shows for later in 2024.

Now Perth has landed another sporting coup — AC Milan will take on Roma in a ‘friendly’ Italian football blockbuster on Friday May 31 at Optus Stadium.

Visiting European teams tend to attract bigger crowds than A-League games and the clash between the Serie A giants is expected to be a sellout.

Former Socceroos and AC Milan goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac told news.com.au it’s a once in a generation chance to see the Italian clubs play in Australia.

“It’s fantastic. Very excited to have my former club come out to Australia,” Kalac said.

“I wish they would have come out while I was playing. Very exciting and it’s great for our public all over to Australia to get two teams, especially one of the size of Milan, to come out to Australia in a one-off game. It’s pretty special.

“Two great clubs who both play an attacking style of football. I’m sure it will be a very entertaining game.

“People are saying it’s a friendly but there’s no friendly matches at the elite level.

“There’ll be a lot of Roma and Milan supporters there from all over Australia.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see these players play in Australia, watch these great players play and in an open training session instead of on TV.”

Australian football’s current Italian connection is through 20-year-old midfielder Cristian Volpato, who is eligible to represent both countries.

Volpato played at Roma under legendary manager José Mourinho and recently joined Serie A side Sassuolo, scoring his first goal for the team in February.

Volpato is among a wave of next generation Australian footballing talent including Garang Kuol and Adelaide United wunderkind Nestory Irankunda.

He has represented Italy at youth level since 2022 and turned down an offer from Socceroos coach Graham Arnold to play in last year’s FIFA World Cup.

But Arnold and Kalac remain hopeful Volpato will eventually decide to pledge his allegiance to Australia and the Socceroos.

“It’s definitely early enough in his career (to change his mind),” Kalac said.

“It’s Graham Arnold’s job to persuade Cristian to come and play for Australia. The level he’s playing at, at a club like Sassuolo in the Serie A, it’s a very, very difficult league.

“He’ll be improving day by day over there and he’ll just need the persuasion and the opportunity to put on the green and gold.

“Once he gets a taste for that playing for the Socceroos, he’ll choose the Socceroos over Italy.”

Arnold told SEN last year: “Cristian is a great kid It’s an extremely difficult decision for the kid to make and he’s got people around him who have given him advice.

“He wants to make this big decision when there are two countries he can play for in Australia and Italy.

“He made that decision and he declined our opportunity to come and play for Australia at the World Cup. It doesn’t mean that he won’t do that in the future.”

While the Socceroos equalled their best ever result by making the round of 16 in 2022, Italy didn’t qualify and missed consecutive FIFA World Cups for the first time ever.

“I think the important thing is the Socceroos keep qualifying for the World Cup and having success through Asia,” Kalac said.

“Anyone who knows the game knows we are the biggest sport in Australia. People keep forgetting this. We’re enormous, we’re a sleeping giant, we’re always fighting for better things.

“The dollars make the big difference, sponsorship, television rights — all this makes a difference in this country.

“We need every player playing at the highest level possible. If you’ve got players in the national team playing in the top five leagues in Europe — that’s going to make your national team.”

Kalac urged Aussie football fans wishing to travel interstate to Perth for the Roma vs Milan game to get their tickets quickly.

Asked for a prediction, Kalac said: “Come on, please. Milan.”

For complete AC Milan vs Roma ticket information, go to www.ticketmaster.com.au.

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