News, views and abuse from Australia
"Thirty plus one is 31," was one of the first things Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek revealed to the gathered media as Australia named their preliminary World Cup squad, and to the misfortune of those present, that was about as insightful as the Dutchman got.
There was no chastising, no public admonitions, no 'if only you had tried a little harder' for the likes of Sasa Ognenovski and Joel Griffiths – players championed by the media, but who had about as much chance of going to the World Cup as The Dirt from Down Under has of winning the Pulitzer Prize.
Verbeek had always made it clear that he has a preference for certain players, and there was no room for Ognenovski, Griffiths or Eddy Bosnar despite their recent good form in Asia.
Ognenovski is vice-captain of South Korean giants Seongnam Ilhwa, Griffiths has scored goals galore for Chinese side Beijing Guoan and Bosnar is currently starring for Japanese outfit Shimizu S-Pulse, but all three appear to have paid the price for speaking out of turn.
Griffiths incensed Verbeek during the qualifying campaign when he questioned the quality of the Qatari national team, while Ognenovski lashed out at the Socceroos coach after missing selection in an Asian Cup squad.
That Ognenovski subsequently pledged his allegiance to Macedonia proved irrelevant – the uncompromising stopper has never represented the Red Lions just as Eddy Bosnar was never seriously considered by Croatia, but the outspoken players were nevertheless deemed surplus to requirements by Verbeek and his coaching staff.
Instead, journeymen defenders Michael Beauchamp and Jade North both earned selection alongside AZ Alkmaar midfielder James Holland, whilst Middlesbrough’s Rhys Williams and on-loan Leeds United man Shane Lowry were also surprise selections.
All five will do well to retain their places in the final 23-man squad to be named by June 1, but the selection of Beauchamp and North in particular suggests that squad harmony is a trait Verbeek holds dear to his heart.
Any egotism tends to be reserved for the genuine superstars of the team, and with the likes of Lucas Neill, Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell set to back up for their second World Cup finals appearance in a row, it should be a familiar looking Australia that runs out against Germany in Durban on June 13.
On paper, the Socceroos are capable of fielding a menacing looking starting eleven, but a spate of untimely injuries now has the country holding its breath.
These days Harry Kewell’s troublesome groin receives as much media attention as Kylie Minogue’s photogenic rear end, whilst doubts remain over whether Mark Bresciano and midfield enforcer Vinnie Grella are fully fit.
That would explain the media hype surrounding players who might otherwise be described as Australia’s 'second stringers,' some of whom have been plucked from the most obscure of foreign leagues.
Most recently, Michael Beauchamp has struggled to make an impact in the United Arab Emirates with Al-Jazira, although the same cannot be said of Mark Milligan – currently earning rave reviews at JEF United in the Japanese second division.
Meanwhile, Jade North was recently forced to swap life on the bench in South Korea for a chilly existence above the Arctic circle in Norway, as he currently calls Tippeligaen club Tromso home.
Teenager Tommy Oar and the pacy Nikita Rukavytsya were perhaps the only surprise inclusions, notwithstanding the fact that Rukavytsya is one of the few Australian players with genuine speed to burn.
Oar may do well just to tag along for the experience, however Rukavytsya should be a shoe-in to make the final squad after turning in some blistering performances for Belgian strugglers Roeselare of late.
All in all, it was the type of squad that many predicted, and while it’s unlikely to give Messrs Loew, Rajevac or Antic too many sleepless nights, that won’t stop optimistic Australian fans from dreaming of second successive trip to the Round of 16.
Full Australian squad: Michael Beauchamp (Al-Jazira), Mark Bresciano (Palermo), Tim Cahill (Everton), Nick Carle (Crystal Palace), David Carney (FC Twente), Scott Chipperfield (FC Basel), Jason Culina (Gold Coast United), Brett Emerton (Blackburn Rovers), Adam Federici (Reading), Richard Garcia (Hull City), Vince Grella (Blackburn Rovers), James Holland (AZ Alkmaar), Brett Holman (AZ Alkmaar), Mile Jedinak (Antalyaspor), Brad Jones (Middlesbrough), Joshua Kennedy (Nagoya Grampus), Harry Kewell (Galatasaray), Shane Lowry (Leeds United), Scott McDonald (Middlesbrough), Mark Milligan (JEF United Chiba), Craig Moore (unattached), Lucas Neill (Galatasaray), Jade North (Tromso), Thomas Oar (FC Utrecht), Nikita Rukavytsya (Roeselare), Mark Schwarzer (Fulham), Carl Valeri (Sassuolo), Dario Vidosic (MSV Duisburg), Luke Wilkshire (Dynamo Moscow), Rhys Williams (Middlesbrough)
*Eugene Galekovic (Adelaide United) has been named in the train-on squad
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