This year has been a frustrating one for a footballer as patriotic as Australia's Tim Cahill. During his long layoff with a foot injury, the livewire Everton midfielder missed out on the Socceroos' last six FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers, including their Asian third round clashes in June, and their crucial 1-0 away win against Uzbekistan in September. Needless to say, now that he is fully recovered and back in the squad, he is determined to excel against Qatar in Brisbane on Wednesday.
Cahill is known and feared in Asia both for his goalscoring exploits and his ability to provide the killer ball. It was the Everton man, of course, who scored two vital late goals against Japan at Germany 2006 to set Australia on the road to their first-ever victory at the finals. But he didn't stop there: in the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, Cahill saved Australia from an embarrassing first-up loss to Oman with a poacher's finish, and then set up three goals in a 4-0 win over Thailand.
"It would be a compliment if they were afraid of me!" said Cahill in a recent exclusive interview with FIFA.com. He pointed out that his well-known aerial ability, along with that of his Socceroo team-mates, could be a key factor in the clash. "A lot of international games, these days, are won on set plays," he observed. "It's very hard to score international goals, but with the Asian teams, obviously we have a good chance at set-pieces."
Australia certainly will not be underestimating Qatar, despite having beaten the Gulf side in their two encounters in the previous qualifying round. "We're fortunate enough to have beaten them twice already, but they're a very good outfit," said Cahill. "They've got the very best facilities in the world, and their training program is very good."
Cahill expects the Qataris to play a cautious game away from home and in front of a passionate crowd. "They're going to play a very cautious game, and try to hit us on the break. But there will be critical points where we'll try to be in their face, and surprise them." Cahill stressed the necessity for meticulous preparation as well: "," he promised.
Australia's first Asian FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign has not been easy. Unlike the majority of the continent's teams, the Socceroos are made up chiefly of Europe-based players. This has meant plenty of long-range travel, with the usual concomitant problems of jetlag and acclimatization.
Although Everton have been eliminated from the UEFA Cup, easing his schedule of fixtures, Cahill knows that the months ahead will be a trial, both physically and mentally. But he refuses to overstate the problems facing the Australian side. "The long and short of it is, I want to play for my country," he said. "Obviously your body can only take so much, but you just have to use your common sense. We all do an awful lot, but we all want to play for Australia!"
The return of Cahill is a godsend for Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek, who once again has to make do with a depleted squad. The experienced midfield quartet of Harry Kewell, Mark Bresciano, Vince Grella and Carl Valeri are all absent through injury or suspension, and Verbeek has called upon a number of Adelaide United's AFC Champions League heroes to bolster his squad.
But the Dutchman has remained positive. "I have enough players who can do a great job, we have confidence that they are going to a great job," he said last week. "They all look very ready to do a job on Wednesday, they look fresh, they look fit, they look sharp, so I'm a happy coach."
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