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I had to laugh when I heard Scotland moaning about a two-hour flight delay.. it's worlds apart from the war zones we play in Football latest; McGowan earns Air Miles to get Aussies to Russia 18.

Byline: Gordon Waddell

They say it's better to travel than to arrive. When what's waiting for you at the other end is civil unrest and terrorist threats then it's probably true.

What sounds like a mission for a United Nations' peacekeeping force is actually just Australia's World Cup qualifying group.

And for Ryan McGowan, it's just par for the course in yet another 20,000-mile epic around the globe en route to Russia in 2018.

While Europe's play-off teams tool up for the fight to reach France next summer, the Asian confederation's three-and-a-half-year long, 18-game war of attrition to make Moscow is already well under way.

Sometimes, in some of the most unstable countries in the region, that metaphor becomes all too literal.

Dundee United Socceroo McGowan has already been in and out of strife-torn Tajikistan and faced the bedlam of Jordan.

FIFA and Australian officials are still debating if it's safe for them to make the journey to Bangladesh next weekend - a trip the Aussie cricket team called off amid security fears less than a month ago.

McGowan said: "I was laughing at Scotland and the moans about their two-hour delay from Georgia!

"I'll leave on Sunday night and arrive in Australia on Tuesday morning for a game on Thursday. That's a quick turnaround in terms of training, sleeping patterns - it's not ideal but it's what we have to do.

"We've got a home game first against Kyrgyzstan in Canberra then we're supposed to be flying to Bangladesh.

"At the moment we're being warned we might not be going.

"FIFA and our own federation are looking into it just now but our cricket team pulled out from travelling there for safety reasons.

"I think the embassy are wanting us to go and if FIFA say we have to, then we have to.

"It won't be the first time we've had to do it but it becomes more than just a game of football.

"Tajikistan was on the brink of civil war when we went. There were mass shootings in the streets of Dushanbe, people lined up against the police, 30 were killed in street fights in the days before we arrived.

"Obviously our security is very good and we're well looked after - but it doesn't make things easy.

"You just get to the hotel, stay there, then get bussed to and from the ground and get out as soon as you can."

For 90 minutes, though, what happens outside the while lines is forgotten, no matter where they go.

And after leaving behind Oceania to join the Asia branch of world football to make their pathway to the World Cup Finals tougher but less dependent on the vagaries of a two-game play-off, the Aussies' eyes have been opened in the region's far-flung outposts.

A 2-0 defeat to Jordan in Amman last month is testimony to that.

''Tajikstan was on McGowan said: "Football unifies people, no matter what they're experiencing in their daily life. You go to places that are in turmoil but the game takes over for 90 minutes.

There "They'll support their national side and especially against us - we're a big fish now that we're in the Asian confederation.

shootings in streets "There's a lot that's unfamiliar about the countries we're playing. And they're different home or away.

"On their own patch they can cause a lot of problems. Packed stadiums, mad atmospheres.

"Against Jordan the stadium was full two hours before kick-off because four people were trying to get in on every ticket. So they filled the place then just closed the doors.

"By the time we arrived, the outside of the stadium was deserted and you think 'This isn't too bad' Then you get inside the ground - and it's total bedlam!

"It gives their players a huge lift. They don't play to crowds domestically then they've got 30,000 going wild."

Still, Australia wouldn't have it any other way after the hit-and-miss play-offs they used to experience.

The 26-year-old said: "In previous campaigns the entire journey came down to just two games in a play-off after we won the Oceania group.

the of "We played Iran, Uruguay a couple of times, Scotland - it's difficult when three years of work to get to a World Cup comes down to just 180 minutes.

were "Now there's a clear path through two group stages.

the "You're allowed a bad game because you can make the points back over a campaign.

'' "We play a first qualifying group of five. Then the top 12 teams play two groups of six - with the top two in each group qualifying and the two third-place teams playing off.

"So you're playing 18 games, maybe 20 to get to the World Cup."

For McGowan and the other Aussies playing for European clubs, that means frequent flyer miles. Hundreds of thousands of them. He said: "The guy in charge of our football federation's logistics has one of the hardest jobs in Australia, trying to keep 20 players happy with the best, most direct flights he can find for everyone.

"We've got a wild cross section - players in Europe, Asia, the Arab world, as well as our own domestic league.

"There's not a box set known to man I haven't watched. There's so much down time with the flights.

"Come Sunday I'll start eating and sleeping Australia time.

"I will try to stay awake the entire flight to Dubai and the first couple of hours from Dubai to Melbourne.

"Then I'll sleep because that will be the equivalent of Monday night.

"I'm fairly conditioned to it so I don't need any help to sleep.

"And the federation look after us magnificently. We fly business class, get the best flight times and they try to give us the airlines and airports we want.

"But it's still 20 trips back to Australia then 10 more onward journeys for away games, like 5000 miles to Bangladesh this time and another 5000 back to Scotland.

"So yes, my frequent flyer points are looking pretty healthy!"

way after used to in stadiums, mad '' '' Tajikstan was on the brink of civil war. There were shootings in the streets

CAPTION(S):

OZ-SOME McGowan takes on Spain's Villa at World Cup

SHUT-EYE SHUTTLE McGowan tries to kip on the flight into Melbourne

HAUL TOO EASY Scots in Georgia (right) would have been moaning a lot more had they taken McGowan's epic trek with the Socceroos in Asia (above)
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Nov 8, 2015
Words:1073
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