The road to the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ has been an impressive one for Pim Verbeek and his Socceroos. Having assumed the reins of the Australian team just prior to their qualification campaign for South Africa 2010, Verbeek has sculpted an impressive side that will face Germany, Ghana and Serbia in Group D. FIFA.com recently caught up with the astute Dutchman during a visit to South Africa for an exclusive interview.
FIFA.com: How are final preparations going? Are there any critical areas that you are working on?
Pim Verbeek: No, not at all. Our venues are very good and I think the training venues will be very good. We have planned our pre-matches for the World Cup, so the only thing I have to do now, the most important part, is select the best 23 players.
How do you feel about starting your campaign against Germany?
For me as a Dutchman it’s always special to play against Germany. I think Germany is not just the favourite for the group but also for the championship, as always. I think its good to start against the favourites; you start as an underdog and you can only surprise. My players love challenges and this [Germany] is a big challenge for us. The funny thing is my players never see problems, they only see challenges. They will be ready.
And then there’s Ghana? Perhaps your most crucial match. What’s it going to take to beat them?
I think Serbia will actually be the crucial game. The final group game will be the decisive one. Germany, Ghana and Serbia; all three opponents have three totally different ways of playing football. So at this moment we are fully focused on Germany and then we have 6 days to prepare ourselves for Ghana, who showed again at the Africa Cup of Nations that even with a lot of players that may not make the final cut they still have a fantastic team and can get the results. I think, watching the Africa Cup of Nations, Australians realised Ghana would be a difficult team to beat. And Serbia have nothing to lose, so that makes for a dangerous opponent. Especially if you see the quality of their players and their qualification campaign.
Your current side is renowned and sometimes criticised for being defensive. What do you mainly attribute this to?
If you don’t have much time with your team, then I think you should start with organisation and that’s what we did. We always play the same system. Defensively I have a very good team but all my players are willing to do the hard job so it was very difficult to score a goal against us. Offensively, we scored the most amount of goals in Asian qualification of any Asian team, so I think we did very well. It’s funny, if you have a lot of clean sheets then people think you play defensively, so perhaps it's better to win 4-3 than 3-0.
Australia's qualification campaign for South Africa 2010 has shown the world a focused and highly motivated team. Are there any key reasons for this?
I think first of all, Australians are very proud. They want to play for their country and don’t forget their mentality, they play from the first to the very last second. Secondly, the spirit in the team is fantastic. Most of the players came from the 2000 Olympics so they are already ten years together. Plus we have some very interesting talented young players and they put pressure on the other players and make them think ‘ok we have to perform, we have to do the job’. There is also a lot of respect in the team. The most experienced players are also my best players so there are no egos in my team. For many of my players this will be their final chance to play in a FIFA World Cup.
From what you have seen of South Africa, what can visitors expect from this World Cup?
I think this is my seventh or eighth time in South Africa and I have always enjoyed being here, even as a tourist. It will be a fantastic World Cup, for me there is no doubt about that.