Australia looks to veterans to navigate “Group of Death”


World Rank: 20th

Best World Cup result: Round of 16 in 2006

Manager: Pim Verbeek

Australia is not exactly a soccer powerhouse.

Although they are certainly working towards that status. The team is filled with English Premier League talent and is lead by a group of lively veterans. The 2006 World Cup squad lost to Italy 1-0 off a penalty kick in the final minute in the Round of 16.

The World Cup 2010 team is similar to that 2006 team. It has plenty of positive attributes, which helped the team dance through their qualification group, now Asia, without giving up a goal.

This has a lot to do with their high-quality goaltending unit.

Mark Schwartzer of Fulham FC is one of the most consistent goalies in the EPL with an average of 1.33 goals conceded/game as well as shutting out the opposition in one third of his matches. The 38-year-old has recovered from a thumb sprain in May and is the first goalie for the Socceroos.

Adam Federici, the Australian third goaltender, plays for FC Reading of the EPL. Middleborough goaltender Brad Jones may miss the World Cup as he has gone home from training camp because of a family illness. His replacement, if he cannot return before the tournament, is expected to be Eugene Galekovic from Adelaide United – an A-League Australian professional team.

The defensive core in front of these keepers is lead by team captain Lucas Neill. The 32-year-old plays for Galatasaray Istanbul of the Super Lig in Turkey.  He played for the Socceroos in the last World Cup when they came close to upsetting Italy in the second round.

Everton midfielder Tim Cahill anchors this team’s offense. He scored 11 goals in 12 FIFA World Cup Qualifier games and two goals in the four games he played in the 2006 World Cup. The 31-year-old gives excellent attacking support to striker Harry Kewell who played in the EPL for over a decade before moving to the Turkish Super Lig in 2008. The 31-year-old has been struggling with a groin injury but has worked hard to be fit for camp.

Under the guidance of manager Pim Verbeek, who was appointed in December 2007, they play what many call a “boring” style of soccer. But Verbeek says it’s results oriented and he’s got a decent track record to back it up. He was the assistant coach for the 2006 Aussie team that almost knocked out Italy and also assisted the South Korean team who in 2002 made it to the semi-finals.

They’ve landed in what some are calling “The Group of Death” along with Germany, Serbia and Ghana. It is predicted by many soccer analysts and fans that Germany will top the group but second place is up for grabs. Considering Serbia finished ahead of France in their qualifying group, this hard working Australia team will have their work cut out for them.