Tuesday, 11 February 2014
Yesterday's man: Harry Kewell may be a surprise inclusion in the Australia squad for the Brazil World Cup
As if drawing footballing superpowers Spain, Holland as well as Chile wasn’t daunting enough, a growing list of injuries looks set to make the Socceroos squad resemble the cast of “The Walking Dead”.
In the past month, playmaker and arguably Australia’s best player Robbie Kruse tore his anterior cruciate ligament when training with his Bundesliga club side Bayer Leverkusen. With Kruse undergoing a full knee reconstruction that will see him sit out the remainder of the season, a return to the pitch before Brazil looks unlikely.
Then news broke late last week that Rhys Williams suffered a serious achilles tendon injury for Middlesbrough. He is now destined to watch from the comfort of his living room, again. He also missed the 2010 tournament through injury.
New manager Ange Postecoglou’s selection dilemmas and the need to find a balance between youth and experience have led to an avalanche of speculation. Harry Kewell’s name is back on the shortlist, now he’s finally found some form with Manchester City FC’s newly acquired A-League side, Melbourne Heart.
Kewell’s class and experience is offset by his ageing body, which has struggled to stand up to the rigours of domestic competition let alone the prospect of a tough World Cup campaign. Even the keenest football follower Down Under knows the national team is in transition. But Kewell’s selection, although popular in some circles, is tantamount to channeling Marty McFly in any of the Back to the Future movies.
It’s not all good news for the national team’s old guard, with current Captain Lucas Neil’s playing career as dormant as Japan’s Mount Fuji volcano, and it looks likely his armband will be appearing on a new bicep come June.
Postecoglou selected Neil for a friendly against Costa Rica in November, in a move seemingly designed to deflect speculation over the player's tenure. But Neil's lack of match time, and his heated reaction to fans’ criticism during that friendly may have made Ange’s decision an easier one come the final 23 name squad deadline.
A recent and busy trip to Europe and the Middle East has kept the new manager’s finger on the pulse of the his current talent pool. There are a number of likely candidates based here and abroad that could find their way into the selection bowl for the vacant roles of Kruse and Williams inluding Dario Vidosic (FC Sion); Matthew Leckie (FSV Frankfurt), Ivan Franjic (Brisbane Roar); James Troisi (Melbourne Victory); Brad Smith (Liverpool) and Ben Halloran (Fortuna Dusseldorf).
The Socceroos will play a friendly against South American opponents Ecuador on March 5 at The Den, home of Championship side Millwall. It is a ground Tim Cahill and Lucas Neil got to know intimately having playing a combined total of 369 games for the South East London club.
A final home soil friendly is expected in late May in Sydney against South Africa. Few fans hold anything like a high level of optimism for the Socceroos’ progression beyond the group stage, but many are hoping Postecoglou’s new football blueprint can reveal that the “size of the fight in the dog prevails over the size of the dog in the fight.”
A high level of competitiveness and minimising the margin of defeat is at the top of all fan’s wish list for their South American experience.