Long-serving Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer has achieved much in the game over nearly two decades at the highest level, but this weekend promises to be extra special. Nearly 18 years after making his international debut, the dependable custodian will become Australia’s most-capped player overhauling the record of 87 appearances held by former captain Alex Tobin.
Seldom has such a rich reward been on offer as Australia prepare to face Japan in the AFC Asian Cup final, seeking to be crowned continental kings for the first time since joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006. The match at the Khalifa stadium in Doha may represent the last opportunity for the evergreen 38-year-old shotstopper to collect silverware.
Australia qualified for the final with an impressive defensive record of just one goal conceded in their five matches and the contribution of Schwarzer has been a key component. Ahead of one of the most significant games of his glittering career Schwarzer tells FIFA.com of his experiences at Qatar 2011, what his expectations are for the match and what winning would mean for the game Down Under.
FIFA.com: The last two matches produced amazing wins, albeit for different reasons, 1-0 in extra time against holders Iraq and 6-0 in the semi-final over Uzbekistan. How do these two matches rate in your Socceroo career?
Mark Schwarzer: These are both huge events, being the quarter-final and semi-final of a continental title. Also there is the rivalry between us and Iraq dating back to 2007 [Iraq defeated Australia in a group match in the Asian Cup] and that is something special. To get a win against the current holders was a great satisfaction but also part of the process for us, which is to take each game as it comes.
The team seems to be very cohesive with a strong spirit despite a relatively new coach in Holger Osieck, and also some new faces in the squad. Is that something you have felt?
Without a doubt. We have worked very hard on being switched on and also with what is demanded of us by the coach. We have a very knowledgeable manager who is well-travelled with a lot of experience with players from many different countries. He has slipped into the role very easily. He is very enthusiastic and very energetic and that has been transferred to the players as well.
You have achieved many personal playing records and now you are set to be Australia’s most capped player. What kind of honour is that?
It is a huge honour. It is the icing on the cake. I think it is one of those things that you try not to think too much about. You try and perform and do you job in each match which is the most important aspect. It’s one of those things that you might fully appreciate later on and then it becomes even more enjoyable. But don’t get me wrong I’m fully aware of the honour that goes with it and I’m deeply honoured.
You are taking the mantle of most-capped Socceroo from former captain Alex Tobin whom you played alongside at the start of your career. Did you ever envisage that?
No, not at all. When you are young I don’t think you ever look beyond your next game. In regards Alex, I have the utmost respect for him as a person and a player and he is a great ambassador for the game.
Can you remember much about your debut against Canada in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier way back in 1993?
I remember most of my games for the Socceroos, if not all of them. It is a long time ago now, but it was a tremendous moment for me.
Do you have any plans regarding your playing future at the moment?
I had a lot of discussions with the manager when he was first appointed and he was adamant that he wanted me to be involved, which I was delighted with. I have no aspirations at this point in time to stop playing and there is no reason to stop playing unless the manager is going to say he wants to look at different prospects. As long as I feel fit enough and am playing well enough to warrant selection, and the manager selects me, then I want to still play.
Australia has a good record against Japan recently. Does that give you extra confidence for the final?
I think it is quite irrelevant because when you are talking about a final it’s a one-off and its all about the 90 minutes, or 120 minutes potentially. It’s all about the day, who deals with the pressure better than the other and that is what it will come down to. Japan are a very good side and they deserve to be in the final. They have some very good individuals and are playing well as a team so it will be very tough for us. We need to play our game and we also have good individuals and have grown as a team throughout the tournament.
Though Australia has won the Oceania crown before, winning this would rank as Australia’s biggest prize, which must be exciting...
Any opportunity to win a major trophy is huge. This is why we have committed ourselves and we were all desperate to be involved in the Asian Cup. We as players first and foremost love representing Australia and we want to do it for Australia and do it for football back in Australia. Of course there is personal ambition and satisfaction but also we ultimately want to do it for the game back home and for future generations.