Long, winding road Milligan hopes will lead to a fourth World Cup

It's not just Tim Cahill - injury and good fortune permitting - who will be playing in his fourth World Cup should Australia make it past Honduras in the next 10 days.

Mark Milligan, the Melbourne Victory captain and sometime Socceroo skipper, would also be appearing at the competition for the fourth time, although his impact has been somewhat less than that of the Socceroo legend.

Milligan, then a fresh faced 20 year old with Sydney FC, was the youngest member of the party brought to Germany in 2006 by Guus Hiddink, then Socceroo manager.

His participation was largely limited to training sessions and making up the numbers in practice games as Australia's golden generation held sway: the likes of Lucas Neill, Craig Moore, Luke Wilkshire, Vince Grella and Jason Culina were all ahead of him in the defence and midfield pecking order.

Four years later it was still the same: Milligan was in the squad, but not in the first team, and once more, this time under Pim Verbeek, he did not play a single minute.

It was very different in Brazil where Milligan had become an important part of Ange Postecoglou's plans. But that is where luck deserted him. The versatile midfielder/defender played in the first game, an unlucky 3-1 defeat to Chile, but got injured in training before the second game, against The Netherlands, and missed the rest of the tournament.

Which is why this time round, as an integral part of the Socceroos mix, he is desperate to get over the hump that is Honduras and make it to Russia where he would be expected to play a key role in midfield, and possibly as captain should Mile Jedinak not make it.

Milligan is suspended from the first leg next weekend after picking up a second yellow card in the narrow win over Syria last month - a source of great frustration.

"It's very disappointing. It's such a long qualifying campaign, especially having to do it this way.

"The way we set up, the position that I play, the way you have to break up the play, it's always a risk, especially playing through Asia.You are never sure when they are going to give out the yellow cards. "

Despite the travails along the way, Milligan remains confident Australia will make it.

"We have been very good as a unit, I know we have had to do this the long way. It's been tough, but just to finish it off well, the way we are trying to set up and do things would be fantastic for the group."

He is under no illusions why Australia failed to make it directly from their group, losing out on goal difference to Saudi Arabia behind Japan.

"The game in Saudi was very tough conditions, we fought hard to get ourselves in front, then we let that one slip away.

"The draw in Thailand, where we got in front there and let that one slip ... probably those two games, if you are looking back result wise.

"It's a lot of travel and hard work to just miss out or fall a step short and go through more games. At the time it happens it's hard to take. But we believe in ourselves as a group, and we are still very confident in going to the World Cup.

"We know it is not going to mean anything different if we get there through Honduras. Something that's in our favour is that we do a lot of travel in our regular qualifications and go to some very difficult places to play.

"In that sense it's not going to be something that we struggle to deal with. They have to do the long travel coming here. We do it on a regular basis, so it will be interesting to see how they handle that."

On a football basis Honduras, a Central American nation, will offer a fresh examination.

"They will present different challenges to that which we face through Asia, but I think overall we have dealt with that better over the last few years, these types of footballing teams - but we also know they have a physical side to them."

Milligan has played for a number of different national team coaches - Hiddink, Graham Arnold (in temporary charge at the 2007 Asian Cup), Verbeek, Osieck and Postecoglou. All have made an impact on him, although it is Osieck who gave him his big chance.

"Under Pim we set up quite defensively but we worked a lot on that. We were quite good at it and that was our strength.

"But as we went through to the World Cup it didn't work out so well. We got touched up in the first game [a 4-0 loss to Germany]. We copped a bit of a hiding there and under Holger as well we were in a very tough spot coming into the last three qualifiers.

"They were played over a month, and we just battled very hard under Holger. We were fortune enough to get a draw in Japan and in the last game at Homebush we were by no means convincing in the way we went and got our result against Iraq

"What happened after, when we played two quality oppositions in Brazil and France, not only did we lose, but we were never even in those matches, and Holger lost his job.

"Under Ange I think we have played probably some of our best football against some of the best teams in the world.

"I do owe Holger for giving me the chance to establish myself. I had been in and out of the national team but not playing a great deal through my time in Japan and with Pim.

"I had played a few times under Holger, but I had come back to Australia and he took a little bit of a risk, especially the qualifying game against Japan.

"I think it was Mile [Jedinak] who had a small tweak and he brought me in to start and obviously he was happy with how I played.

"I guess he had the belief in leaving me in there. Since then is when I have played the majority of my games, some 35 or 40 odd games over the last four years. That was what kick-started me with the national team even though I had been in and around it for so long."

Milligan might not have expected to play much in 2006 or 2010, but the memory of his injury in 2014 drives him on to be part of 2018 if Australia can make it.

"I started the game and played against Chile. It was the day before we left for the Holland game [in Porto Alegre] and we were training at our camp in Vittoria and I did a 13cm tear in my hamstring.

"Now I am just really enjoying how we do things with the national team. I am enjoying playing with this group of players and I just want to be a part of that as long as possible."

The fact that Milligan is at Victory this season is a major boost for Kevin Muscat's team. He came very close to joining Bolton in the English Championship in mid year, but paperwork and Australia's position outside the world's top 50 nations prevented him getting a clearance.

"I have been at Newcastle and even Sydney FC in the early days, but I think we definitely have a target on our backs at Victory.

"The intensity does seem to be much greater week to week, which is good, it's one of the reasons why I did decide coming back here because I know there is pressure to perform.

"But the biggest factor for me coming back here now was the Asian Champions League. I played in the Champions League a few times, but have not really tasted any sort of success there. I am getting older [he turned 32 in August], and I don't know how many more chances I will get if I am playing through Asia to be part of a Champions League squad."

This story Long, winding road Milligan hopes will lead to a fourth World Cup first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.