Australia’s attempts to maintain the hard-earned momentum of recent years and qualify for a third successive FIFA World Cup™ will depend, in part, on the development of young players still feeling their way in the international arena.
The Socceroos' breakthrough qualification for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and successful follow-up four years later, was achieved with similar personnel. Brazil aside, Australia were the oldest squad at South Africa 2010, and with many of the Socceroos' so-called “golden generation' having now hung up the boots, focus is firmly fixed upon the fresh faces coming off the production line Down Under.
Since taking the reins of the national team last August, coach Holger Osieck has indicated that change will be by evolution rather than revolution. An experienced squad, which included a number of youngsters tasting tournament football for the first time, only fell narrowly short of winning January’s AFC Asian Cup.
This week, Australia faced New Zealand and Serbia in their final home matches prior to the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 qualifiers, which begin in September, and Osieck declared himself delighted with the performances of his rawer recruits. "I was looking for depth… Now I'm convinced that we definitely have new additions to the squad,” he said following the 3-0 defeat of New Zealand, in which Australia fielded its youngest side in recent years.
Here, FIFA.com takes a look at just some of the young Socceroo brigade who could develop into key players for Brazil 2014 and beyond.
Rhys Williams: Was set to be Australia’s youngest squad member at South Africa 2010 until a groin problem ended his chances of capping a quick ascension to the highest international stage. The Middlesbrough youngster appears to be the consummate modern defender with an athletic build and composure in possession. The 22-year-old has been utilised at right-back for the Socceroos but has also featured in the centre of defence at club level.
James Troisi: Like Williams, Troisi bypassed the A-League, with the Adelaide-born midfielder playing all of his senior football in Europe. Starting out with England's Newcastle United, Troisi then moved to Turkey, initially joining Genclerbirligi, and then ambitious Kayserispor, where he has enjoyed regular first-team action over the past two seasons. Primarily an attacking left-sided player, a confident Troisi was one of Australia’s best performers against New Zealand and crowned an impressive night’s work with a late penalty, converted in front of his home-town audience.
Michael Zullo: Ahead of Germany 2006, Australia seemed blessed with a host of options on the left side of defence, where the likes of Scott Chipperfield and Stan Lazaridis offered experience and reliability in equal measure. Recent years has seen the position filled by David Carney and Matt McKay, with Utrecht-based flyer Zullo the latest to be tested in the role. The diminutive 22-year-old turned in a comfortable showing against an under-strength New Zealand, only to be given a severe work-out in the scoreless draw against Serbia just two days later. As is the case with many full-backs in the modern game, Zullo - like Chipperfield and Carney - is a converted winger who played at full-back for his Eredivisie club during an injury-riddled season.
Robbie Kruse: After an erratic beginning to his A-League career with Brisbane Roar, the pacy Kruse enjoyed a new lease of life with a move to Melbourne Victory, and a partnership with Archie Thompson. An array of sparkling displays for Australia’s best-supported club led to selection for the AFC Asian Cup and a goal in the semi-final victory over Uzbekistan. A year to remember was then capped with a recent move to Fortuna Dusseldorf. The slightly built forward has both pace and close-control, and is seen as much as a provider as a goalscorer.
Mitchell Langerak: Although yet to make his international debut, Langerak is tipped by many observers to be the long-term incumbent of the Socceroos No1 jersey. Like Zullo and Kruse, Langerak is another Queensland product, having begun his career at the curiously named Bundaberg club Across the Waves. The tall and agile goalkeeper enjoyed arguably the highest-profile European club debut of any Australian by helping Borussia Dortmund to a 3-1 win at the home of Bayern Munich last February. There followed a national team call-up as Australia enjoyed a maiden win against Germany, although Langerak was forced to remain on the bench behind long-serving custodian Mark Schwarzer. The parallels with the iconic Schwarzer, who also started his European career in Germany, are irresistible and it would not be a surprise to see Langerak enjoy similar longevity in the Socceroo shirt.