RUNNING out onto the pitch at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah to play for Australia in their opening match of the Qatar 2022 finals against defending champions France this month must have seemed a world away for Aaron Mooy this summer.

The midfielder was without a club after leaving Shanghai Port in China and was training by himself at a local park near his home in order to keep in shape. He was uncertain about what the future held and fearful that his personal predicament could cost him dear in the long term.

So it was maybe little wonder when Mooy spoke about his July move to Celtic in glowing terms yesterday after being named in Graham Arnold’s squad for the World Cup.

It would have been a major surprise if the 53-times capped 32-year-old had been left out; he had played for his country throughout their qualifying campaign and scored a penalty in their AFC-CONMEBOL play-off final shoot-out triumph over Peru back in June.

Still, there were always doubts at the back of his mind. He was relieved as well as delighted when he received official notification from the Socceroos earlier this week that he had made it into their 26-strong pool.

He is also grateful to his club for providing him with an opportunity to play at a high level at home and abroad on a weekly basis and cement his spot.

Mooy was once signed by English giants Manchester City and played in the Premier League down south with both Huddersfield Town and Brighton during his time as a professional. But he has no regrets whatsoever about joining Celtic.  

He believes that turning out for Ange Postecoglou’s side this term, including against RB Leipzig, Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, has prepared him perfectly for the forthcoming Group D games against France, Tunisia and Denmark.

“It was a tough time when I was training in a local park in the summer,” he said. “I was back home from China and with my family so there were positives there. But I wasn’t playing much football.

“But then I joined Celtic and I’m loving it here and I’m going to the World Cup. It’s fair to say Celtic is one of the best moves I’ve ever made. 

“It’s just an amazing club and the fans are incredible. It’s a demanding club but you want to be testing yourselves in these kind of situations. Playing for a big club is demanding. I just want to give my best. I’m just trying to soak it all in as much as I can.

“I joined Celtic later in the summer and I agree with the manager when he said I can only get stronger the longer the season goes on. As a professional footballer that’s what you want to do. You always want to improve and I’ll be trying my best to do that.”

Mooy, who started in all three games for Australia at the Russia 2018 finals four years ago, confessed that he was desperate to be involved in the tournament again in Qatar and had worried that he might miss out.

“It was a hugely proud moment for me, definitely, to get the call-up for the World Cup,” he said. “It only happens every four years and there are no guarantees you will make it there. 

“To get to go to one is something you dream of when you are a child and when you start playing football. I was nervous when I was awaiting the squad announcement. I think that’s natural when you are wanting something so badly.

“When I got a message through saying I was in the squad I just felt really proud. I played at the last World Cup, but to be named in the squad for another World Cup is just as exciting.”

Mooy has a match against France, Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe et al, to look forward to on Tuesday week and is exhilarated at the prospect of pitting himself against those global superstars of the game.

But he will treat the cinch Premiership match against Ross County at Parkhead this afternoon every bit as seriously. He is determined to help Ange Postecoglou’s side record a victory which maintains their seven point lead over Rangers at the top of the table and ensures they go into the break on a high.

“We have a game against Ross County today and that is all I am thinking about right now,” he said. “Once the Ross County game is out of the way then I will look forward to the first match at the World Cup.

“You have just got to prepare and get in the right mind frame for the game. That’s what I do. Then once the game starts, like the other night at Motherwell, you just want to win. When I was playing at Motherwell in midweek I wasn’t thinking about the World Cup. I was just thinking about winning and it will be the same when we play Ross County.

“We want to make it nine wins in a row domestically before we break for the World Cup. We want to play well and to win and to do that we need to do what we always do and go for it from the very first whistle.

“We have played Ross County a couple of times already and each game in this league does not always goes smoothly. There are bumps on the road along the way and times when we will have to show good character. Hopefully against Ross County we can put in a good performance and take all three points.”