Memories of a visit from Socceroos legend Mark Schwarzer to the primary school of a young Keanu Baccus still live fresh in the mind of the Olyroos midfielder, as he prepares to fulfill a dream sparked by watching his heroes don the Green and Gold.
Baccus is one of 22 Australians set to represent the nation at the Tokyo 2020 Men's Football Tournament later this month. The Western Sydney Wanderers technician has come a long way on his footballing journey, fuelled by the eagerness to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Schwarzer and fellow Socceroos icon Tim Cahill as part of a new generation of Australian talent eager to do their country proud.
As kick-off against Argentina on July 22 draws closer for the Olyroos, read more about Baccus' journey to Tokyo as socceroos.com.au provides you with a chance to get to know every member of Graham Arnold's squad that little bit better.
Aussie heroes ignite Baccus' desire to represent the Green and Gold
They're the players who inspired generations of young Australians to dream.
The likes of legendary Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and all-time Socceroos record goalscorer Tim Cahill taught kids around the country that any goal is achievable as they helped end the nation's 32-year wait to feature at a Men's FIFA World Cup in 2006. The Socceroos have since gone to four in a row, and will gun to qualify for a fifth throughout 2021 and 2022.
Baccus is a current Olyroo who grew up watching his idols turn dreams to reality on the international stage. He says watching those scenes unfold as he progressed through childhood helped garner his confidence to pursue the same dreams for himself.
"The likes of Cahill and Schwarzer I think when I was a bit younger definitely stand out," said Baccus.
"I had Schwarzer come to my school in primary school, he was playing for the Socceroos.
"I was growing up watching Cahill and Schwarzer and those sort of stand out among others, (I was) always wanting to get there.
I think I put all my eggs into one basket with football, I wasn’t too bright at school or with the books but football was always my dream and my love.
"It means the world to me. It’s always a huge honour to play for your country."
Olyroos 'like a family' to Baccus
He's used to going toe-to-toe with some of Australia's most talented young midfield stars in tense A-League battles, but Keanu Baccus says that rivalry only makes the Olyroos camp stronger as he prepares to joins forces with his clubland foes at Tokyo 2020.
The familiarity between squad members converging in Japan ahead of the upcoming Men's Football Tournament at the Olympic Games is creating a cohesive atmosphere within the 22-player squad according to Baccus, who helped Australia qualify for Tokyo 18 months ago at the AFC U-23 Championship in 2020.
Baccus is one of 14 players in Arnold's squad who featured in the A-League throughout the 2020/21 season. Baccus says the experiences shared between the 22 players either at club level or in prior national camps has helped turn the group bound for Tokyo into one big family embarking on a shared pursuit of medals at the Olympic Games.
"I think all of us are good (people) here, we’re all mature players, we’ve all had our time," Baccus said.
"We’ve played a couple of years all of us at the top flight in our countries respectively.
"I think we all add something to the team which is great.
"I think all the midfielders here, Cameron (Devlin), Denis (Genreau), Connor Metcalfe were really good this year in the A-League.
"Then the likes of Riley (McGree), but that’s just midfielders. Thomas Deng, Reno (Piscopo), I’m close with those two.
It feels like a family here, and it’s good to be a part of it."
Baccus joins to Olyroos squad gearing up for Tokyo 2020 at the Olyroos Fukishima training camp
"As I said, we’ve all played against each other or with each other so we are all pretty familiar with each other.
"We have good camaraderie between these boys as I said before, we all know each other.
"A lot of us have helped qualify for the team or been a part of it along the journey.
"The belief has definitely grown from the last time we were together to now. We’ve all developed further in the last 18 months."
A moment of pride upon getting the call-up
18 months ago Baccus was in Thailand with Arnold's Australia U-23 squad fighting to finish as one of the top three nations at the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship, with a place at the Olympic Games the ultimate prize.
Baccus helped Australia to a third-place finish to confirm a spot at the 2020 Games, before the COVID-19 pandemic put the Olympic dream on ice. Now, 18 months after the 1-0 win over Uzbekistan which sealed Australia's path to Tokyo, Baccus can finally get excited for what's to come.
He says the wait for the phone call from head coach Graham Arnold to confirm his selection was a nerve-wracking experience.
"I was at home at the time, and Arnie said he was going to give me a call in about half an hour," Baccus said.
"I didn’t know how it was going to go at the time, because I hadn’t heard much (from) the other boys.
"When I heard, I was stoked. I was over the moon.
"He said ‘we’re going the get a medal, and we want to do the best we can’. It was an amazing feeling obviously for me."
"My immediate family knew straight away," he added. "My mum has been my biggest fan since I was young, taking me everywhere for football. My dad too, for football all over Australia. They were stoked for me.
"My older brother is in South Africa, I messaged him and he was very happy for me. He said it would be a huge honour to represent my country here in Tokyo."