WORLD CUP fever isn’t limited to South Africa. Australia, who open their campaign at the magnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban against Germany on June 13, are ready to “do something special” according to Tim Cahill.
Cahill, who missed out to South Africa’s Steven Pienaar in the battle to be Everton’s Player of the Season, said: "For the last World Cup the nation stopped and there hasn't been a bigger event since that. It’s massive.”
In a nation where Rugby League, Rugby Union and the paradoxically-named Aussie Rules vie with Association Football for winter attention, Cahill insists: “Soccer is where it should be, up there fighting with the best. It is an honour and a privilege to play for Australia, to fly the flag.
“I’m fit and part of a squad fighting to do something special for Australia. I have been waiting for this for a long time."
The Socceroos were once a rare sight in the World Cup Finals – but since they were allowed to avoid a final play-off as Oceania’s champions against Latin America’s fifth-best nation, they are heading for a second successive tournament as Asian qualifiers, having impressed in Germany four years ago.
The 30-year-old, who made his international debut for Samoa aged 14 after being born in Sydney to an English father and a Samoan mother, said: “As a team we have improved one hell of a lot. The Asian group has been so difficult, playing against teams like Japan, Qatar and Bahrain - it has been as hard as when we last played Brazil."
Not sure about that one Tim. Qatar and Bahrain as hard as Brazil? Given the Aussies have been drawn the ‘Group of Death” with Germany, Ghana and Serbia, a bit of hyperbole is understandable. The former Millwall striker, so good in the air despite standing just 5ft 10in high, is getting the jitters as the greatest footballing event in the universe draws near.
He said: "It’s weird. We’re finally there and the domestic season is over. To have the World Cup finally here is a great feeling. My first expectation would be to get through the group.
“After that, we saw in the last World Cup that anything can happen. It is a World Cup final every game you play, it is 90 minutes of football and whoever is better on the day wins. Everyone is starting at level par and for me the aim will be to get through the group and hopefully make a few surprises.
"The statistics show Germany are always there or thereabouts. We know how strong they are as a team, so for us it is about concentrating on our strengths and trying to break them down slowly. They are slow starters in most competitions they play so hopefully we can catch them cold.
"Ghana are dangerous, being one of the strongest teams in Africa and having the powerhouses of Michael Essien and Stephen Appiah and a few other Premier League players. And the dark horses would have to be Serbia, I think they are strong as well."
So Tim. Break them down slowly – and catch them cold. There’s a plan. He adds: “It has been really hard but the players have improved domestically playing for their clubs. They are doing better and a lot more boys are coming overseas.”
True, they’ve got quite a collection of players from around the world gathering to join Dutch boss Pim Verbeek’s Soccceroos. In a nation where Australia’s cricketers and rugby players are generally in the shake up for the other World Cups, goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer (Fulham), diminutive stiker Scott McDonald (Middlesbrough) and Blackburn’s Brett Emerton are among 11 British based players who intend to give the Germans a run for their money in their opening game in Durban.
With the veteran Harry Kewell carrying an injury as the former Liverpool star arrives to join up with the squad from Galatasary in Turkey, Australia will be hard-pushed to improve on their performance in 2006, when they narrowly missed out on the quarter-finals in a last-gasp defeat to eventual champions Italy.
But Cahill, who has scored 19 goals in 37 games since being allowed to play for Australia after his junior appearances for Samoa, insists: "Our experiences in Germany will definitely help. We get the chance now to do it again. We are more experienced and have more game time under our belt, so maybe we can do something special."