Bailey Wright had only just left the field after Australia’s famous win when he received the text.
The Sunderland defender played his first World Cup minutes against Denmark as a substitute on Wednesday night, helping to protect a 1-0 lead that sealed the Socceroos’ spot in the round of 16.
But he was in tears when he spoke to media afterwards, revealing his mother-in-law was seriously ill. On Thursday, Football Australia confirmed she had died.
“I’ve just come in from a message from my wife,” Wright said straight after the game. “I just want to dedicate this to my wife – bless her – and her mum. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if she’s still with us.
“It was, for them, a really tough time back home. But ultimately it made this possible for me to be here and live one of my dreams, so I dedicate that to [her]. I hope she’s still with us.”
Wright said he had not told anyone in the Socceroos camp about the situation, before he fronted up to the media post-match. “That’s something I’ve kept to myself, we’ve all got a lot going on,” he said. “Job to do, isn’t it? You’ve got to be professional all the time.”
Teammates on Thursday rallied around Wright.
“My condolences go out to his family and his wife’s family,” said Miloš Degenek. “I think it’s especially for his wife, with two kids, it’s something that no one wants to wish upon anyone. And I think it’s a very hard moment for her, and for him as well. He knows we are his second family and we will be behind him.”
Coach Graham Arnold said his player was “devastated”.
“I just said to him, ‘it’s crazy these things in life – when something special happens, something gets taken away’,” Arnold said. “Bailey, he’s okay. Obviously the whole team and everyone’s caring for his wife.”
Wright came off the bench in the 74th minute for Riley McGree, as coach Graham Arnold opted for an extra defender to stop Denmark equalising.
The 30-year-old described the 20-minute shift as “special”, particularly given he had been in Ange Postecoglou’s squad at Brazil 2014 but was not given any game time.
“To achieve what we’ve achieved, a lot of that performance and the reward you’re seeing now has been an effort over four years,” Wright said. “A lot has been on this journey, and that’s for everyone who has made sacrifices over four years.
“A lot of people wouldn’t have seen those sacrifices – people isolating, being away from family for weeks, months. There’s a lot of people that aren’t here that have put that work in.
“But we’ve always felt a sense of togetherness, that your mate’s got your back. It’s 11 brothers out there, whoever comes on, and it’s pretty special to be part of that. It’s difficult to put into words what it feels like when you’re part of something like that.”