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FIFA Confederations Cup 2017

Wilkshire: Russia 2017 can be a springboard for young Australians

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  • **Australian Luke Wilkshire has played eight seasons in Russia

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  • **The defender has two children with Russian wife Kristina

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  • He believes "Australia can spring a surprise at the Confederations Cup"

Australian defender Luke Wilkshire moved to Russia in August 2008, becoming the first player from Down Under to play in the Russian Premier League. Not only was he one of Dynamo Moscow’s most exotic signings, he has also gone on to be one of their most successful, helping the club to third place in his first season.

Dynamo Moscow fans have taken the Australian to their hearts, appreciating his uncompromising attitude and boundless commitment on the pitch. Wilkshire has always been ready for battle, even when suffering from jet lag after returning from national team duties.

"Australia played during the week, so I’d return to Moscow the day before a league fixture," revealed Wilkshire, who has won 80 caps for the Socceroos, more than the legendary Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka. "Dynamo coach Andrey Kobelev looked at me once and said, 'You’re completely jet-lagged, you’re being rested tomorrow.' But I always knew that when it matters, tiredness doesn’t mean anything. I was confident I could play and said, 'Coach, put me in the line-up, I’m OK.'"

Wilkshire has become more and more Russian with every year he has spent at Dynamo. It started off with small things, like when he unexpectedly discovered that he loved borsch and black bread. "I could never have imagined Russia would become a second home for me," the footballer said in an interview with FIFA.com. "Meeting Kristina completely turned my life around."

Kristina is Luke’s Russian wife, with whom he has two children. "We were constantly crossing paths: at the petrol station, in restaurants," Wilkshire said with a smile. "We started chatting once, and since then, we haven’t been able to live without each other."

Thanks to his wife and her friends and family, Wilkshire has got more and more immersed in Russian culture, even converting to Orthodox Christianity a few years ago and being christened under the name Luka. "We christened our daughter Mia, and that very same day, I decided I would follow suit," he explained. "My wife and I live under the same roof and share the same lives. If she’s Orthodox, then that means so am I."

*Irreplaceable Cahill
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When Ange Postecoglou was appointed Australia coach in 2013, he was tasked with rejuvenating the squad and Wilkshire, previously a permanent fixture at full-back, did not receive a call-up for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Even though the team has got younger, the Socceroos’ leading goalscorer in qualifying for Russia 2018 is Tim Cahill, who turns 38 this year.

"It’s hard to turn your back on such a great footballer," said Wilkshire. "Throughout his career, he has been a genius in the air. Just look at his neck – that’s all power. Nowadays, Tim comes off the bench more often than not, but he only needs ten minutes to score the decisive goal by planting his head on a cross.

"Cahill is a real icon, but I’d say the best footballer in Australian history is Harry Kewell. He had a unique way of striking the ball, the same technique that separates the superstars from just good players. Harry could decide the outcome of any game on his own.

"For 10-12 years, almost everyone in the national team played in the top European leagues: in England, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. Now a lot of guys play in Australia. Maybe the Confederations Cup will be a springboard for some of the young players, like it was for me."

Although Wilkshire did not get on the pitch at the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2005, he acknowledges that simply by being at the tournament, he learned a great deal from the older players in the squad. Australia have twice finished in the top three at the Tournament of Champions, and this year, the defender believes the side is capable of pulling off a shock.

"It’s actually great that so many good teams qualified," he concluded. "By playing against Germany, Chile and Cameroon, we’ll be able to see where we are in our development. Australia haven’t beaten a top country for a while, so why not now? Our national team is never afraid of anybody, so they can spring another surprise at the Confederations Cup."

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