Perhaps more so than any other Australia player, Josh Kennedy will have a major role to play at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Based on Pim Verbeek’s formation during the qualification campaign, expect to see the towering 27-year-old battling away as a lone forward for his country.
Kennedy could also prove to be the only player who lines up against Germany on 13 June that didn’t start any of the Socceroos' matches at the last FIFA World Cup. Despite only making two substitute appearances at Germany 2006, the 1.94m player's influence was crucial. Indeed, he featured prominently in a couple of priceless goals as Guus Hiddink’s side reached the knockout phase: first against Japan as Australia snatched a comeback victory in their opener, and then in the 2-2 draw with Croatia that proved enough for them to advance.
The value of a similar impact from Kennedy in South Africa, where Australia will also face Ghana and Serbia in Group D, would be incalculable.
The Nagoya Grampus striker had not even made his international debut four years ago to this month. However, a goal as a substitute on his debut against Liechtenstein just a week prior to Germany 2006 – typically a brave headed finish – sealed his progression in Hiddink’s pecking order as the back up to Australia captain Mark Viduka.
Now Kennedy is likely to assume the role played by the now-retired Socceroo No9, as the spearhead of the attack. They are big shoes to fill given that Viduka is an Australian legend, but the Wodonga native remains unfazed. “I have been involved in the team for a long time, and whenever I have played I think I have done extremely well, so I think the transition in taking over that striker's role has been quite easy,” Kennedy told FIFA.com.
Kennedy experienced a mixed club career in Germany, largely blighted by injury, but the last 12 months have proven to be a profitable. Regular football and a steady flow of goals in the J.League, and also in last year’s AFC Champions League, have been a timely boost for Kennedy.
“I think it has been great move for me,” he says. “I’m scoring goals and I’m playing regularly, which is why I went there.”
Since moving to Germany as a teenager, after featuring in the FIFA U-17 World Cup New Zealand 1999 final, Kennedy’s link with the European country has been constant. Indeed, until his highly successful move to Japan last year, Kennedy spent a decade plying his trade with a number of Bundesliga clubs, among them Wolfsburg, Cologne and Nuremberg. Germany 2006 is, of course, a major highlight on the Kennedy resume, and then there is also the small matter of an impending meeting against the thrice world champions next month.
“Drawing Germany is quite funny and seemed quite a coincidence for me,” said Kennedy, who is married to Australian basketballer Jacinta Hamilton. “If we got a result there it would be a little bit sweet for me. The Germans are a fantastic tournament team, and are a team that will be looking to make the semis or even Final. We have them in the first game and we will go in there and give it everything and see how we go.”
Kennedy believes Australia are more than capable of making their mark in South Africa. “I think it’s a fantastic thing that we have a similar team to the last World Cup, though we have a few younger players coming through and pushing for a few positions making for a good mix," he said. "We will have a good mix of youth and experience.”