Happy as underdogs, Aussies looking for Germany upset | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 13.06.2010
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Happy as underdogs, Aussies looking for Germany upset

The big question hanging over Australia's World Cup first XI is whether it's lost the youthful spark that propelled it in 2006. Nevertheless, the 'Socceroos' still hope to take points off Germany on Sunday.

Australia's national soccer team players

The socceroos want to spring a surprise

In Germany in 2006, Australia was playing in its first World Cup in 32 years and was able to draw upon the hype and euphoria associated with finally breaking such a long drought. The team was young and represented a genuine surprise package in the tournament - and surprise they did, reaching the round of 16 and losing in controversial circumstances to eventual champions Italy.

Harry Kewell of Australia

Injury has kept Kewell from training ahead of the Cup

But with a starting XI nearly identical to the one that overwhelmed Japan 3-1 in the opening match of 2006, many pundits are wondering whether Australia is now four years more experienced, or just four years slower.

The First XI in South Africa is expected to mirror the 2006 equivalent, with the exception of striker Mark Viduka, who hasn't played international football since 2007.

The team played exciting football in 2006, but the 2010 version of the "Socceroos" has not evolved, and there are fears the unit now lacks that crucial blend of youth and experience, of pace and steadiness.

Worries galore

Significant injury clouds have hung over key attacking players Harry Kewell, who plays his club football at Galatasaray, and midfielder Brett Emerton of Blackburn Rovers - both of whom only resumed training with the national squad a week before their Group D opener against Germany.

The likes of midfielders Vince Grella, also of Blackburn, and Mark Bresciano, whose Palermo contract has just expired, have also battled injury in recent months and have played limited first-team football in their respective leagues.

Defender Craig Moore, formerly of Glasgow Rangers, is also without a club - and at the age of 34 has been fending off concerns he may have lost the speed necessary to match it with the likes of a Bastian Schweinsteiger, Marko Marin or Mesut Oezil.

Lucas Neill

Socceroos captain Neill is a rock in defense

At the back, Australia's great hope lies with veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who, at the age of 37, has returned to career-best form with Europa League finalists Fulham.

Captain Lucas Neill is also still considered a rock in defense, but endured an up-and-down season himself, switching from Everton to Galatasaray in January.

National coach Dutchman Pim Verbeek has sought to dispel the concerns over injuries and lack of game time, insisting a week out from Australia's clash with Germany that all his players were now fit and ready to take on the world.

Defensive unit

But it remains to be seen whether this will equate to match fitness, and whether the Socceroos will be in-tune enough to keep up with a youthful Germany team displaying at times a mesmerizing brand of attacking football.

Moreover, the Socceroos are being billed as a team that will offer little in the way of genuine attacking threats of their own, instead presenting themselves as a difficult team to break down in their defensive third - and indeed Verbeek's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation attests to this.

Several attack-minded teams play 4-2-3-1, of course - Germany and Brazil to name but two - but Australia has often lacked the speed and technical proficiency to use the formation in the same way they do.

In its World Cup warm-up matches the Socceroos struggled to shift the ball quickly enough from the back, through the midfield and up to the lone striker in order to effectively hit teams on the counter-attack.

Australia can boast a highly organized team, though no more than most other countries that made it to South Africa. At this level, possessing a tight, well-organized team is the lowest common denominator.

Happily underdogs

So what does Australia have going in its favor? The first two words that come to mind are Tim Cahill, who has enjoyed a solid season with his club Everton, and who is without doubt the Socceroos' primary attacking threat.

Australia's Tim Cahill celebrates

Cahill is one Aussie making the Germans nervous

Despite his height, or lack thereof, Cahill is remarkably good with his head, and has a knack for slipping into the right place at the right time. He'll certainly be a handful for the German defense, with national team defender Per Mertesacker commenting recently that Cahill was "one of Australia's most dangerous players and will be their midfield maestro."

Luke Wilkshire of Dynamo Moscow will also be one to keep an eye on. Wilkshire's crosses and free kicks from the right were a source of several goals during World Cup qualifying for the likes of beanpole striker Joshua Kennedy.

Also in Australia's corner will be the knowledge that they've been written off as also-rans by the other two teams in Group D, Serbia and Ghana.

Ghana midfielder Sulley Muntari commented as recently as Thursday that his team would be focusing its attention on games against Serbia and Germany, with victory against Australia all but considered a fait accompli.

This perceived dismissiveness will undoubtedly work in the Socceroos' favor.

Never lie down

Australians see as central to their sporting mentality the ability to rise to an occasion, to thrive against all odds. Australians love an underdog and cherish a squad full of fierce competitors. Australia is also a young country, and sporting success is a big part of its national mythology. They don't give up without a fight.

Australia is also known as a physical team, with the national squad having been subject to a fitness regime many in the Socceroos camp feel is superior to those of other countries.

Lucas Neill may have stated recently that Australia would be happy with a draw against the much-fancied Germans come Sunday, but don't take this to mean the Socceroos feel they don't have a chance.

''[Germany's] record suggests they are the most consistent team in world football, and the pressure is on them to win," Neill said earlier in the week. "Nobody in the world, apart from our team, expects us to beat them. If we manage to win, we will shock the world.''

Author: Darren Mara
Editor: Matt Hermann

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