Jason Culina is undaunted by the recent 2010 FIFA Word Cup™ draw, which placed Australia in Group D alongside Germany, Ghana and Serbia. The high-energy midfielder also believes that the Socceroos can build on the experience of Germany 2006 and better the achievement of reaching the last 16.
Since debuting for Australia in early 2005, Culina has been a fixture in the Socceroos line-up, starting all four matches at the 2006 FIFA World Cup and all four at the AFC Asian Cup a year later. Despite being blessed with a smooth touch and a good football brain, Culina’s invaluable contribution to the cause in the heart of the midfield is seemingly overlooked by some who fail to recognise his influence on the teams of Guus Hiddink and Pim Verbeek.
Culina is optimistic about Australia’s chances against their South Africa 2010 opponents, comparing the group to that which Australia progressed from at Germany 2006. “Initially I thought difficult, but when you put them up against the teams we had last time it could prove to be pretty even,” Culina told FIFA.com. “Last time we had Brazil, which you could probably compare to Germany, we had Croatia which you could probably compare to Serbia, and then Japan perhaps with Ghana. It is not going to be easy, but then there are no easy games in World Cups.”
Culina is eagerly anticipating testing his skills in the opening group match against European heavyweights Germany, having been a member of the side which lost 4-3 at the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup in the teams' last meeting. “We are going to find it challenging, especially the first game against Germany, and we need to get a result first-up and it is a huge game for us to commence with.
“We have been together for a long time and the majority of players have one World Cup behind us, and we have a bit more experience now. Yes we have older legs but we also have older minds and are better for the experience. I honestly think we can improve on last time,” says Culina referencing Australia’s historic progression to the Round of 16 at Germany 2006, where it took a late goal from eventual world champions Italy to end the Socceroos’ involvement.
Although in the prime of his career at 29 years old, Culina earlier this year elected to return to Australia after four highly successful seasons with Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven. It was an unusual move in an era when well over 100 Australians ply their football trade in Europe, but it has proved a prosperous one for Culina and fledgling A-League club Gold Coast United.
Culina has taken pleasure in helping the club from Australia’s surfside capital to a ladder position among the league’s top clubs, with United claiming a number of spectacular wins along the way. “I have enjoyed my whole experience in the A-League,” says Culina whose father Branko is the coach of A-League club Newcastle Jets. “Everybody would agree that the A-League doesn’t compare to the top level in Europe. But we are getting there and I have said all along that I believe in the A-League.”
With Australia's domestic season concluding in March, there are fitness concerns for domestic-based players heading into South Africa 2010. The timing could prove problematic for Culina and other leading squad candidates such as Mile Sterjovski, Chris Coyne and Craig Moore. Culina, though, refuses to be drawn on any plans after the conclusion of the A-League, preferring to give a typically Aussie “no problems” when asked about his condition leading into the FIFA World Cup. Australia’s opener against Germany on 13 June at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban will go a long way to indicating whether Culina and his team-mates can indeed create further history at South Africa 2010.