By Christopher Boulay
Photo from fOTOGLIF
Australia has qualified for their third World Cup, the first as members of the Asian Football Confederation. But, can the Socceroos make the impact they did four years ago again? After making it to the Round of 16 in Germany, will they be able to make it past the group stages again, with stiff competition from Serbia, Ghana and Germany? It will be up to their top men, Everton’s Tim Cahill and Galatasaray’s oft-injured Harry Kewell to power them to another impressive finish in South Africa.
How they qualified: Australia started in the third round of AFC qualifying, in a group with Qatar, Iraq and China. Australia won the group on goal differential 4 to -1, after both teams finished level on 10 points. Then, in the fourth round of qualifying, the Aussies again finished first in their group, on 20 points, with Japan finishing in second, five points behind.
2/6/08- Australia 3-0 Qatar
3/26/08-Australia 0-0 China
6/1/08- Australia 1-0 Iraq
6/7/08- Australia 0-1 Iraq
6/14/08- Australia 3-1 Qatar
6/22/08- Australia 0-1 China
9/10/08- Australia 1-0 Uzbekistan
10/15/08- Australia 4-0 Qatar
11/19/08- Australia 1-0 Bahrain
2/11/09- Australia 0-0 Japan
4/1/09- Australia 2-0 Uzbekistan
6/6/09- Australia 0-0 Qatar
6/10/09- Australia 2-0 Bahrain
6/17/09- Australia 2-1 Japan
Australia qualified in impressive fashion, finishing first in both of their groups in their first attempt to qualify for the World Cup in the AFC.
Australia’s 23-man squad:
Goalkeepers: Mark Schwarzer (Fulham), Adam Federici (Reading FC), Brad Jones (Middlesbrough FC)
Defenders: Scott Chipperfield (FC Basel), Luke Wilkshire (Dynamo Moscow), Michael Beauchamp (Melbourne Heart), Lucas Neill (Galatasaray SK), Mark Milligan (JEF United), Craig Moore (Free Agent), David Carney (FC Twente)
Midfielders: Mark Bresciano (US Palermo), Brett Emerton (Blackburn Rovers), Vincenzo Grella (Blackburn Rovers), Jason Čulina (Gold Coast United), Carl Valeri (US Sassuolo), Tim Cahill (Everton), Mile Jedinak (Antalyaspor), Brett Holman (AZ Alkmaar), Richard García (Hull City), Dario Vidošić (FC Nuremberg)
Forwards: Joshua Kennedy (Nagoya Grampus), Harry Kewell (Galatasaray SK), Nikita Rukavytsya (FC Twente)
Players to watch:
Forward: Harry Kewell- The 31 year-old is huge to any plans Australia has to being successful. If he plays well, the pieces usually fall into place for the Socceroos. He has 45 caps and 13 goals for his country and will be looked to by national team manager Pim Verbeek to have a huge impact in the teams’ attack.
Midfielder: Tim Cahill- The Everton vice-captain is the other irreplaceable cog in the Australian outfit; Cahill will have a big say in the squad’s plans. With 40 caps and 20 goals to his name, Cahill will be questionable to be ready for the Germany match, but without him and Kewell, the Aussies’ time in South Africa may run short.
Defender: Lucas Neill- Socceroos’ captain and Galatasaray defender, Neill has captained 22 of his 56 times capped with the national team, and will look to lead a solid defense that only gave up 4 goals in 14 qualifying matches.
Goalkeeper: Mark Schwarzer- The Fulham shot-stopper has the highest amount of caps (75) among active Australian players, and at 37, is showing no signs of slowing down. Schwarzer just reached the Europa Cup final with his club, and should be one of the more formidable keepers at the tournament.
How they will do:
Australia is not as strong as they were in 2006, and their team are in a much tougher group. They will almost certainly battle for the second spot with Serbia and Ghana, and to overtake both of those nations will not be impossible; but it will certainly be difficult. If the team plays even stronger than in qualifying, they will have a shot. Otherwise, the Australians are just happy to be here.