5 Australia players to watch at the World Cup
SYDNEY (AP) — Australia will be returning for its third consecutive World Cup with its toughest assignment to date — Group B matches against defending champion Spain, 2010 finalist Netherlands and Chile.
Despite having a squad containing some new, inexperienced players, Australia coach Ange Postecoglou is undaunted by the task facing him.
“If there is an opportunity there for us to create some headlines and shock the world, we’ll take it,” Postecoglou said.
Here are five players to watch:
At 34 and playing in his third World Cup, midfielder Tim Cahill is expected to be the heart of the team in Brazil.
Cahill is the all-time leading scorer for the Socceroos with 31 goals, his last two coming in a friendly against Ecuador in London in March.
Playing at The Den, where Cahill started his career with Millwall, Australia led Ecuador 3-0 at halftime but lost 4-3 after goalkeeper Mitch Langerak was sent off in the second half.
Despite the disappointing result, Cahill could not hide his enthusiasm over the team’s opening 45 minutes.
“The first half was some of the greatest football I’ve ever seen from the Socceroos, and I’ve been around for a long time,” he said.
In a team mostly lacking in star power, 29-year-old midfielder Mile Jedinak holds the distinction of being Australia’s only currently fit player involved regularly in the Premier League.
The Crystal Palace captain has made 43 appearances for Australia.
Tommy Oar has moved quickly up the football ranks, joining the A-League’s Brisbane Roar at the start of the 2008-09 season and being named the best young player in the country the following year.
The 22-year-old winger first played for Australia against Indonesia in 2010 but didn’t make it to the World Cup in South Africa. His did score against Japan in a 1-1 draw in last year’s qualifiers, however, keeping Australia on course for the World Cup.
Playing for FC Utrecht in the Netherlands gives Oar the advantage of seeing many of the Dutch players he’ll face in the first round.
Lucas Neill may not even make it to Brazil for the World Cup, but the Doncaster defender has been a mainstay in the national team.
The 36-year-old Neill has recently fallen out of favor despite a stellar career which included 15 years playing in England. He also participated in the penalty shootout in the playoff win over Uruguay that earned Australia a spot at the 2006 World Cup.
Neill was heavily criticized in Australia’s consecutive 6-0 losses to Brazil and France for his defensive lapses, although he’s a big-occasion player who could help settle the squad in Brazil.
Neill, who was captain in 2013, wasn’t included in the squad for the last friendly.
Mathew Ryan is the likely first choice to fill the big and well-worn shoes of Mark Schwarzer, who turned down a chance to play at a third World Cup when he retired from international football in November.
The 21-year-old Ryan moved from the A-League last year to Club Brugge in Belgium, where he has improved under the tutelage of Michel Preud’homme.
Ryan played solidly in a friendly win over Costa Rica and kept a clean sheet in the first half of the friendly against Ecuador in London when the Socceroos led 3-0 in the first 45 minutes. His replacement, Mitch Langerak, was red-carded early in the second half for a crude tackle, and Australia lost 4-3.
That could be the deciding factor in who gets the No. 1 jersey in Brazil.