By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Socceroo young guns James Holland and Tommy Oar are hoping to put to good use the lessons they have learned the hard way in European football when Australia meet Oman in a crunch World Cup qualifier next week.
Playing thousands of kilometres from home has been the rule for top Australian footballers since former Middlesbrough and Liverpool midfielder Craig Johnston blazed the trail to England in the 1970s.
Both Holland and Oar experienced tough times in Europe after leaving Australia as teenagers but stuck it out and are now members of a band of twenty-somethings on whom the future success of their country's football rests.
Holland spent three confidence-sapping years at Dutch Eredivisie club AZ Alkmaar before finding his feet at Austria Vienna, where his performances this season have attracted interest from Bundesliga clubs.
The 23-year-old defensive midfielder, who started Australia's last match against Romania, has not quickly forgotten the years of frustration in the Netherlands.
"You are in a foreign country, you don't have that safety net or that family around you," he recalled in Sydney on Friday.
"You don't have the friends, you are adjusting to the culture, the language and the football, it's not an easy thing.
"When I left here I was, maybe not a somebody, but I was playing and I was involved, then all of a sudden I was a nobody and that was also something that was hard for me to deal with.
"Once you lose your confidence, all those things come together.
"(But) I never considered coming home ... that's my dream and I was always going to tough it out. All I ever wanted to do was play in Europe and I was going to give it everything."
Skilful left winger Oar has finally secured a regular first team place in his third season at Dutch club Utrecht, where he plays with fellow Socceroos Michael Zullo and Adam Sarota.
"It doesn't just happen overnight, it takes a lot of adjusting to the standard," the 21-year-old said of the transition.
"It's much less physical and a lot more technical so I think it's great to develop your technique and your skills.
"The Dutch style is that they value possession, it's not as direct as the Australian or the English football.
"In order to adapt to that style you have to improve your touch, your positioning, your tactical awareness. They are subtle things but they do help."
Oar played a major role in Australia's 2-1 win in their last World Cup qualifier against Iraq in Doha last October, coming off the bench to provide the cross for Archie Thompson's 83rd-minute winner.
Australia desperately need a win against Oman at Sydney's Olympic Stadium next Tuesday in their bid to secure a qualifying spot for the 2014 World Cup after a stuttering start to their campaign.
Holland, whose self-imposed exile means it is more than four years since he played on home soil, said he thought the influence of the younger players was starting to make itself felt in the national team.
"I think there's been a little bit of talk about the lack of youth coming through, but we have a lot of young players who are doing well in competitions in Europe," he said.
"We are gelling a lot, you've got the young boys coming through and the older boys and it looks good going forward, one hundred percent."
(Editing by Ian Ransom)