Team Profile: Australia
Emerged out of the wilderness at Germany 2006, ending a 32-year long wait for World Cup football.
Colours: Two-tone green and gold shirts, shorts and socks.
Nickname: The Socceroos
Previous World Cup appearances: 1974, 2006
Best World Cup performance: Second round, 2006
Coach: Pim Verbeek
Most-capped player: Mark Schwarzer, 73
Top scorer: Tim Cahill, 19
FIFA Ranking (Apr 10): 20
Emerged out of the wilderness at Germany 2006, ending a 32-year long wait for World Cup football. Talk to any Australian football fan about their most memorable Socceroo moment and it will definitely be those eight made minutes in Kaiserslauten, when a spectacular 3-1 comeback win over Japan in the dying stages of the match started the Aussies on their way to getting out of the group stages. They suffered a heartbreaking and controversial exit at the hands of Italians in the first knockout round via a late Francesco Totti penalty. The pioneers though will always be the men who first qualified in 1974.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
It was a far cry from the emotional penalty shootout victory over Uruguay in 2005, when Australia became the last nation on the planet to book its place at football`s showpiece event. That night will largely remain a blur for most Australia fans and is a stark contrast to the clinical manner in which Pim Verbeek has steered the Socceroos through their first Asian qualification path. They came through two groups, with Iraq and China headlining the first and Japan the second. They topped both of them and lost just one out of their fourteen matches, conceding only four times.
Hyper-organized and unified, as their defensive record suggests. This is a team in which the players know each others playing styles intimately, having largely all been together when they first broke the nation`s World Cup drought four years ago. They have become masters at grinding out results late in the game, which suggests determination and fitness are their backbone.
Goal scoring is a major problem and the placebo is currently Tim Cahill. But once the world`s better defenders catch on that setting two defenders on Australia`s main man will largely nullify the Socceroo goal-scoring threat, who is there to step up? The absence of a prolific forward, proven at international level, is conspicuous. Also lack pace all over the park.
Pim Verbeek was largely an unknown when he was handed the job as a second – or possibly, third – choice by the FFA (Football Federation Australia) around 18 months ago, with his appointment questioned by analysts and commentators before he had even taken charge of his first game. The Dutchman has silenced all of his critics however with a near-perfect qualifying record and some impressive competitive and non-competitive results along the way against the world`s bigger teams. Is an honest character who has a wonderful relationship with his players. In terms of a coaching style, is a conservative who prioritizes discipline over aesthetics.
Tim Cahill (Everton, England): Does he even have to be mentioned? Scored Australia`s first ever World Cup goals with that stunning brace off the bench against Japan in 2006 and since then has been this squad`s most prolific goal scorer. It`s no exaggeration to say that the Socceroos always look to Cahill when they need to find the back of the net – and he almost always delivers, usually in the most dramatic fashion. Is the team`s X-Factor.
Mark Schwarzer (Fulham, England): On countless occasions throughout qualifying, Schwarzer stepped up to save the Socceroos when they were nowhere near their best. A penalty save early in the campaign late in the final minutes of a scoreless away draw against China set the tone as he went on to single-handedly at times keep Verbeek`s superb defensive record in tact. The talisman at the back.
Harry Kewell (Galatasaray, Turkey): Say what you want about Kewell`s fitness and his decision to leave the English Premier League for Turkey; he still retains the ability to produce moments of absolute quality at the highest level. Always seems to step up against the best opposition, the closest thing to Cahill in terms of unpredictability. Still the most recognisable name in Australian football to most outsiders.
BEST FOOTBALLING MOMENT
The last few minutes of the match against Japan have been etched into Australian football folklore but in terms of historical significance, it has to be qualifying for the World Cup for the first time ever in 1974 and going on to face the eventual champions in West Germany; that feat was performed by essentially amateur players and through a Hellish Asian qualifying route.
OFF THE PITCH
Famous For: Beer, supposedly breeding large animals as pets (crocodiles, sharks and kanagaroos among them) and AC/DC.
Most likely to: Leave other nations trailing in its wake in terms of beer consumption per capita during those four weeks in South Africa.
WORLD CUP OBJECTIVE
Getting out of the group stage will be a minor miracle – though the average fan might be quietly confident if the draw is kind.