IN one glitzy swoop in front of the nation’s cameras on Sydney, Pim Verbeek dashed the World Cup dreams of more than a handful of would-be Socceroos on Tuesday.
The occasion, which seemed as much a promotion for major sponsor Qantas as it was for the Socceroos, ended with 31 players still in the reckoning for a berth at next month’s World Cup.
But with injury clouds hanging sullenly over several players and a preliminary squad swelled to 31, many questions over the Dutchman’s final 23 for South Africa are still yet to be definitively answered.
This much we do know: A red pen has gone through the names of Perth trio Jacob Burns, Mile Sterjovski (who subsequently called time on his international career) and Chris Coyne; Eddy Bosnar and Sasha Ognenovski appear destined to never appear in the green and gold; and Simon Colosimo’s round trip to train at AZ Alkmaar has gone unrewarded.
Matthew Spiranovic – roundly regarded as Australia’s best long-term defensive prospect – pays the price for a lack of on-field action.
Like most countries preparing for the world’s biggest stage, the bulk of Australia’s squad seems to pick itself.
All 31 players enter camp on May 19, with a farewell friendly against New Zealand in Melbourne five days later looming as pivotal for fringe players to press their claims.
The Socceroos then fly to Johannesburg on May 26, with a final squad to be named by June 1.
Verbeek’s team takes on Denmark the same day, before a final friendly with the US on June 5.
The World Cup kicks off six days later. But few players – even those with their passport seemingly already stamped – will be lifting their eyes past the naming of the final squad on June 1. You only need to look at the likes of Ronaldinho, Patrick Vieira and Karim Benzema (all overlooked in their respective nations’ squads) as proof nothing can be taken for granted.
Nick Carle, David Carney, Michael Beauchamp, Richard Garcia, James Holland, Shane Lowry, Jade North, Dario Vidosic and Tommy Oar in particular will all be among those as comfortable as Damocles sitting under that sword.
And while their ability to impress Verbeek over the next few weeks is crucial, the fitness of some of the squad’s more illustrious members might also be a factor in whether they make the cut.
Verbeek was adamant Harry Kewell, who is reportedly suffering from more groin trouble, will be part of the 23. Doubts also exist over Mark Bresciano, who has not played for Serie A club Palermo this year.
If both are selected yet not fully fit, Verbeek may have to consider the qualities of Oar, Carle, Garcia and Vidosic as attacking contingencies.
The squad’s defensive set-up is similarly no closer to being revealed.
Verbeek looks certain to partner Craig Moore alongside Lucas Neill in the centre, with Scott Chipperfield and Luke Wilkshire likely to be his full backs.
Who he’ll choose for backup from Jade North, Michael Beauchamp, Mark Milligan, Shane Lowry, Rhys Williams and David Carney is anyone’s guess.
So for those thinking Australia’s squad would be all-but stitched up on Tuesday, think again.
The intrigue is just beginning.
Australia: Michael Beauchamp, Mark Bresciano, Tim Cahill, Nicky Carle, David Carney, Scott Chipperfield, Jason Culina, Brett Emerton, Adam Federici, Eugene Galekovic*, Richard Garcia, Vince Grella, James Holland, Brett Holman, Mile Jedinak, Brad Jones, Josh Kennedy, Harry Kewell, Shane Lowry, Scott McDonald, Mark Milligan, Craig Moore, Lucas Neill, Jade North, Tommy Oar, Nikita Rukavytsya, Mark Schwarzer, Carl Valeri, Dario Vidosic, Luke Wilkshire, Rhys Williams.
* Galekovic has already been named fourth-choice goalkeeper and will not be part of the 23-man squad unless Schwarzer, Jones or Federici are injured.