"You always want to achieve the ultimate goal and the ultimate goal for any footballer is the World Cup" is how Mark Schwarzer describes his excitement as the prospect of playing in Germany 2006. In the second of a two-part exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the Sydney-born stopper talks of his views on the play-off with Uruguay, his delight that the second leg is in Australia and his desire to see football flourish back in his native land.
FIFA.com: How does it feel to be just two games away from the FIFA World Cup™?
Mark Schwarzer: It's exciting. We've come down to the crucial point of qualification. Historically, Australia have always reached this stage quite comfortably and this time was no exception. But we know how difficult it is going to be. It's always tough when you play a South American side, but we know just how difficult that Uruguay will make it for us. We had to play them four years ago and it was very difficult, but this time round we are more aware of them and the threat that they cause. They have some good players who have risen through the ranks and are making a name for themselves in the European leagues. So it is going to be difficult for us, but we are confident that we can qualify for the World Cup.
Do you think you have a better chance this time around than four years ago?
I think we are better prepared for the games; without a doubt. I think the players are fully aware of the environment we will be going into in Montevideo, as there are a large proportion of the squad that were there four years ago. It won't be as big as a shock as it was to us in 2001. The atmosphere in South America in a play-off game is unlike anything I have ever experienced and nothing, apart from experience, can prepare you for it. What happened four years ago was a massive learning curve for the vast majority of us and we will be able to build on it this time around.
You must be happy that the first leg is in Uruguay?
Yes, it is nice. This is the third occasion when we have had to play a South American side in the play-off stages and it is the first time we have been able to play the first leg away from home. Hopefully, we can use that to our advantage. We know that we have to go to Uruguay and do a good job. It's exciting because we feel that we have been given a good opportunity.
You must be pleased that Harry Kewell is coming back to fitness?
It's great when players are coming back to fitness, especially ones like Harry Kewell. He's very influential on the pitch and he is also seen as one of the biggest names in Australian football. We need our best players on the pitch and Harry is one of them.
There will be 83,000 people in Sydney watching the play-off between Australia and Uruguay. Is that a sign that football is growing in popularity Down Under?
I think that football has always been very, very popular in Australia. The Australian public, like the players, are determined to give everything they have to help us qualify. Australia is unique in that sense. Any national team that we have, whether it's cricket, rugby or football - the public support it 100%. Football is a world game. It is also the most played sport in Australia, just as it is in the majority of places around the planet. Australia is no different. With the introduction of the new A-League, football has obviously had a bit of a boost as well and if we qualify, it will obviously give the game a further boost. I'd like a World Cup appearance to help the country realise its full potential in football.
Have you heard positive reports about the new A-League?
Yes I have. I have heard that it's doing very well. They are getting very good attendances: higher than they initially anticipated. I think that as it begins to establish itself, it's going to build a better league and a better footballing scene in Australia.
What would it mean for you to play in a FIFA World Cup in Germany?
First and foremost, to qualify for the World Cup for only the second time in Australia's history would be a feat in itself and realise a lifetime ambition for me. As a young kid, I always dreamed about playing in the World Cup and that dream has continued throughout my footballing career. You always want to achieve the ultimate goal and the ultimate goal for any footballer is the World Cup. It's the biggest stage to play on; it's just unfortunate from our point of view that we have only been there once before and that was over 30 years ago - West Germany 1974. Now we have Germany 2006 to aim for: it's quite ironic that we have a good chance to play in Germany. Hopefully that's a good omen for us.