Football: Aussie stopper Ryan desperate to face Messi, Ronaldo

Football: Aussie stopper Ryan desperate to face Messi, Ronaldo
A file picture taken on June 9, 2014 shows Australia's goalkeeper Matthew Ryan taking part in a training session in Vitoria, Brazil, few days before the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup .
PHOTO: AFP

VALENCIA, Spain - The thought of it would cause most goalkeepers nightmares, but Australia and now Valencia's number one Matthew Ryan has waited patiently for the chance to try his hand at stopping the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Ryan, 23, has taken an unusual route to arrive at one of the world's top leagues having swapped the A-league with Central Coast Mariners for Club Brugges two years ago.

A brilliant spell in Belgium allied to being the rock behind Australia's Asia Cup triumph earlier this year brought interest from around Europe, but it was Valencia's ambitious project to be back challenging amongst the elite in the Champions League that attracted Ryan.

That ambition remains on track after he played a starring role in a 3-1 win over last season's quarter-finalists Monaco in the first leg of their playoff in midweek with one particular save from Bernardo Silva making a fine first impression on the Mestalla faithful.

"It was a very nice feeling to be honest. I think any young player coming into a team wants to justify himself as quickly as possible and I think that save was a nice confidence booster to feel important within the team," he told AFP.

"It's always good to make a save like that where you sort of surprise yourself." Ryan's move to Valencia has been hailed by Australia's national coach Ange Postecoglou as he aims for more Socceroos to end up at the top level in Europe, but it also comes with a risk.

Diego Alves had been one of La Liga's top goalkeepers in recent seasons until he ruptured cruciate ligaments on the final day of last season, leaving Valencia looking for a new 'keeper.

Ryan has filled that void for now, but knows he has plenty of hard work ahead of him to keep the Brazilian international on the sidelines when he is fit come the new year.

"I knew my next stop after Brugges I wanted to go somewhere where it is more competitive for spots," he added.

"I always wanted to get to the bigger and better leagues to challenge myself, no matter where I would have liked to end up after Brugges I knew I was going to go somewhere where there would be a lot of competition.

Foot in the door

"Some of the individual talent in the squad is the best I've been in contact with on a regular basis. I am really enjoying being here and continuing to learn.

"I've got my foot in the door now and hopefully will not give the coach a reason to take me out of the team." As well as the internal competition Ryan is tasked with stopping an array of the deadliest strikers in world football. The dates with Messi and Ronaldo have been put on the back burner for now, though, as Valencia travel to Rayo Vallecano for their season opener on Saturday.

And he believes they can draw inspiration from Atletico Madrid's title triumph two years ago to challenge Real Madrid and Barcelona for silverware come the end of the campaign.

"It's obviously my first time in one of the premier leagues in world football. I'm not expecting any easy games in such a league," added Ryan.

"The club is very ambitious. The owners have stated they want to win things in the coming years that is why I play the game. You play to win games, to win silverware and create memories that will remain for the rest of your life.

"Atletico surprised everyone a couple of years ago and won the league. To those sorts of teams we are an underdog but we want to get on a level where we're seen as on a par with those sorts of teams." Ryan isn't just learning on the pitch with Spanish lessons also high on the agenda to help him communicate with his new teammates.

For now he has Valencia's new English assistant manager Phil Neville for company, although he admits to avoiding the former Manchester United man after taking some flak for Australia's defeat in the Ashes.

"There isn't much I can say so I am trying to steer clear of him at the moment until I can get my own back." Unlike the Aussie batsmen, Ryan is at least one sportsman from Down Under who appears to be thriving in Europe this summer.

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