April 23, 2010

By Gregory Sica, SI.com

Group D
Tim Cahill
Australia will rely on midfielder Tim Cahill to deliver the goals.
Lucas Dawson/Getty Images
June 13 Germany Durban
June 19 Ghana Rustenberg
June 23 Serbia Nelspruit
Fast Facts
COACH: Pim Verbeek (second year)
HOW THEY QUALIFIED: Finished first place in Asia Group 1
PREVIOUS WORLD CUPS: Two appearances (1974, '06)
Projected Starting Lineup
G Mark Schwarzer Fulham (England)
D Lucas Neil Galatasaray (Turkey)
D David Carney FC Twente (Netherlands)
D Craig Moore Kavala (Greece)
D Luke Wilshire Dynamo Moscow (Russia)
M Vince Grella Blackburn (England)
M Jason Culina Gold Coast United (Australia)
M Mark Bresciano Palermo (Italy)
M Tim Cahill Everton (England)
M Harry Kewell Galatasaray (Turkey)
F Joshua Kennedy Nagoya Grampus (Japan)

Through April, SI.com will profile World Cup teams weekly. We continue with Australia. Click here for the full archive.

Key players

Attacking midfielder Tim Cahill is Australia's most in-form player. In January, he reached his 50-goal milestone with Everton, becoming one of the most effective Aussies in English Premier League history. Cahill is a very aggressive player with a never-say-die-attitude and much is expected of him at the World Cup -- four years ago in Germany he came on as a second-half substitute to score twice to lift Australia over Japan for the country's first World Cup victory.

With three-quarters of its expected starting XI having featured in Germany, there's no question that several of Australia's squad members are well past their prime. One player who has been on top of his game, however, is former Liverpool winger Harry Kewell. His career has been rejuvenated in Turkey with Galatasaray, and with the World Cup just around the corner, this is not only a motivating sign for the player but also for the Socceroos. Kewell is blessed with tremendous talent, and if he produces his best, Australia could again turn some heads.

One of the reasons behind Australia's success is the influence of Palermo midfielder Mark Bresciano. With a decade of experience in Italy, Bresciano has been able to transmit everything he has learned into the national team. "Marco" is a valuable asset for the Socceroos, for his versatility and because of his unique eye for goal (this could be vital because Australia lacks a proven goal-scorer).

Fortunately for Australia, it has safe hands between its three posts with Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. Having played in England for the past 14 years, the 6-foot-4 Schwarzer is well aware of the demands of competing at the highest level.

What to watch for

Since reaching the round of 16 for the first time in '06 -- where it was controversially eliminated by Italy -- Australian soccer has improved immensely. This improvement, coupled with the Aussie mentality of progress, self-confidence and fighting spirit, means the Socceroos fear no opponent.

Few teams that will feature in South Africa have been together as a team as long as the Aussies. The majority of Australia's squad took part in Germany '06 and this has not only helped unify the team on the field but off it as well. While the Aussies are known for their physical game, head coach Pim Verbeek (who received criticism throughout qualifying) has slightly modified that approach so that it reflects a similar style to that of the Dutch national team. Verbeek has vast World Cup experience after working as the understudy to Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat -- two accomplished tacticians -- at the '02 and '06 World Cups with South Korea.

Australia's main weakness could be the transition to a different style of play. Most of the squad prefers an aggressive style of soccer that emphasizes team work rate, but if the Aussies adopt a different technical approach, it could prove to be a disadvantage.

Another factor that could decrease Australia's chances of progressing past the group stage is an aging veteran core. The Socceroos are one of the oldest squads to compete in South Africa -- seven projected starters will be 30 years of age or older when the tournament kicks off. With the pressure and demands of the World Cup (Australia's three Group D matches will be played in the space of 10 days), fatigue for the aging players could take a toll on performance.

Key match in group stage

June 23 vs. Serbia. This is the final match of the group, and it's very likely the winner will advance to the knockout round, along with group favorite Germany. If Australia exploits its physical superiority, it could get the better of the Serbs in what will surely be a pulsating clash. The fact that there is a large Serbian community in Australia will add extra spice to the encounter, even before the ball is kicked.

Celebrity scouting report: Danny Allsopp*

Danny Allsopp There are a lot of expectations surrounding the Australian squad after the last World Cup in 2006, but the group stage is going to be really difficult, and it will be an achievement to get through our group. After that you never know what's going to happen, but we have a good squad with a lot of experience from 2006. ... At the moment our most dangerous player is Cahill, but Lucas Neill is fantastic, along with experienced players like Kewell, Schwarzer and Vincenzo Grella, are the men that Australia will look to as key players. All of these guys have proved themselves in England and other top football leagues, so hopefully they can keep their form in the summertime. ... We have Germany in Group D, and that is definitely going to be a challenge. They are obviously the favorites to take the group, and Serbia is going to be tough. Ghana had a great World Cup the last time around, so [Australia] will have to be at its best to make it through the group stage. I think we will get out of the group. I predict we will be in the knockout round and that we will go one better than the last World Cup.
*The D.C. United striker is from Melbourne, Australia. As told to SI.com.

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