Tuesday, 8 April 2014
World Cup 2014: Time for a new Australia as Harry Kewell is the latest ageing stalwart to retire from the game
Australia coach Ange Postecoglou has a number of difficult decisions to make as he looks ahead to Brazil and beyond
The era of World Cup campaigns of the past is slowly morphing to a new future for the Socceroos. The ageing stalwarts and stable choices have seen the writing on the wall or decided to call it a day as new coach Ange Postecoglou looks ahead to Brazil and beyond.
Following Mark Schwarzer back in November, it was Harry Kewell’s turn last week. The former Leeds United, Galatasaray and Melbourne Heart midfielder drew the curtain on a wonderful career that saw him gather 56 caps for his beloved Socceroos.
Kewell’s record speaks for itself. As a player, he lured a new generation of non-footballing types in following the game here and abroad. His legacy to the game in Australia was wide reaching from his early days with Socceroos team-mate Mark Viduka at Leeds United to proudly wearing the red jersey of Liverpool on 98 occasions.
The weight surrounding Kewell’s future centred on whether he could regain the form and fitness needed to represent his country for one last time in Brazil. Like in life, sporting fairytale finishes are few and far between. Despite his fine unwavering service to his country, time eventually ran out for the man they called “H”.
Captain Lucas Neill’s plight is looking more desperate by the hour with the veteran defender agreeing to a last ditch month-long loan deal with English Championship battlers Doncaster Rovers.
The Socceroos now prepare for a farewell friendly against the Bafana Bafana of South Africa in Sydney on May 26. Following the miraculous “game of two halves” Ecuador experiment last month, Postecoglou will be looking to settle on a final squad and will have all his fingers and toes crossed against further injury woes
An entire Australian football community sighed when learning that the injury to the most valuable hamstring of Socceroos star Tim Cahill wasn’t as bad as first feared. Cahill left the pitch early after straining the muscle against MLS side Chivas USA. Initial reports said he may miss the World Cup, but Postecoglou can now breathe a little easier knowing the prognosis will sideline the dynamic midfielder for two to three weeks.
The big question though is who will be wearing the gloves in Brazil. The long and necessarily dormant succession plan kicked in after Schwarzer’s predicted retirement from International football.
A young Maty Ryan has been the front-runner since joining Belgian Jupiler League side Club Brugge this season as their new No 1. The side have only conceded 28 goals in 29 games this season with Ryan claiming 10 clean sheets including five straight over the November to December period.
Most agree a starting keeper should be at the peak of their powers and banking plenty of regular game time. Mitch Langerak’s moment of madness against Ecuador highlighted by a defensive brain fade left the vastly inexperienced back line struggling for cohesion. His "overzealous" challenge marked a player in need of game time – something he is not getting too much for his adopted club side Borussia Dortmund.
A positive sign for Socceroos fans and the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) is Australia have claimed second place to the USA in total ticket sales for the World Cup. Aussies to date have secured 40,681 tickets across various matches over the tournament despite their almost impossible “Group of Death” draw with Spain, Holland and Chile.
With the AFC Asian Cup tournament to be hosted by Australia in January next year, organisers will be encouraged by fan numbers desperate to watch the Socceroos both in Brazil and back home down under.
And finally … The Socceroos have unveiled their new “away” strip to the world.
Launched on April 2, Nike claim: "The new dark 'obsidian blue' away jersey was inspired by the design worn by Australia when they qualified for their first-ever finals in West Germany 40 years ago.”
The shirt boasts a stylish and modern yellow johnny collar, as another reference to the iconic 1974 national team.
It may not dazzle like the Dutch orange or sizzle with the red of Spain, but both kits represent a valuable connection with the pioneers of the past through an innovative futuristic design.
The “obsidian blue” doesn’t quite roll off an Aussie tongue like the more favoured dinky-die “green and gold” kit but one thing is for certain/; The contingent of Aussies in Brazil will cheer loud and proud and be “True Blue” to their cause.