Massimo Luongo believes he is in career-best form ahead of the World Cup. (AP: Moises Castillo, file photo)
On the outskirts of London, close to the thundering planes of Heathrow airport, one of Australia’s most exciting football players is putting in hours of hard slog in the surprisingly warm English sun.
Massimo Luongo, covered in sweat, runs alone up and down the beautifully prepared training field.
His Queens Park Rangers (QPR) teammates are already on holiday, after finishing 16th in the Championship, the second tier of English football.
But Luongo trudges on at the direction of his personal trainer … and on, and on.
Relatively fresh from a brief break in Dubai, he wants to maintain what many pundits believe is the best form of his career.
His aim is simple. He is determined to make a mark on the World Cup in Russia.
“Obviously I think scoring a goal would be massive,” Luongo said, after finally cooling down.
“But my goal is to start every game and I believe I put myself in the best situation to do so.”
Born in Sydney, Luongo has made 34 appearances for the Socceroos since 2014, finding the back of the net five times along the way.
The most memorable goal was probably the strike that helped Australia win the 2015 Asian Cup final.
Massimo Luongo celebrates after scoring a goal during the 2015 Asian Cup final against South Korea. (Reuters: Steve Christo)
Three years on the midfielder feels he is now “twice the player” and some pundits seem to agree.
Luongo finished the season by winning QPR’s prestigious Supporters’ Player of the Year award and impressed during the Socceroos’ last outing against Colombia.
But the 25-year-old knows his skills will be put to the test when Australia — ranked 40th in the world — takes on Denmark (12th), Peru (11th) and tournament heavyweights France (seventh) at the World Cup beginning next month.
The first match against the French in Kazan could define the Socceroos’ tournament.
“If we get a result against them we’ve got two games to go and anything can happen,” Luongo said.
“I’m confident we can qualify from our group.”
Most would not agree with his optimism or give Australia much chance of springing a surprise.
“As far as the teams we’re playing against I think they all look at us as, maybe, the weakest side in the group,” he said.
“We use that to our advantage … we’ve been the underdog before.”
Luongo chasing Premier League dream
There is already some speculation about Luongo’s playing future next season.
Aston Villa, which is still a chance to return to the Premier League, is reportedly eyeing him off.
Massimo Luongo has been plying his trade for QPR in the Championship. (ABC News: Tim Stevens)
Good World Cup performances against some of the game’s top players are likely to boost the chances of Luongo being bought by a top-flight club.
“I think everyone would want to be in the Premier League,” Luongo said with a laugh.
“Having a good World Cup won’t hurt the chances; ideally I want to do it with QPR.
“If I have an amazing World Cup, look what happened with James Rodriguez — amazing World Cup and he ended up at Real Madrid.
“But all I’m focused on is that France game.”