Tim Cahill expects the FIFA World Cup™ to bring Australia to a halt next month. The inspirational Everton midfielder expects football to capture the imagination of his sport-mad nation when the global showpiece begins in South Africa.
Association football traditionally lives in the shadows of Aussie Rules and the two rugby codes Down Under, but Cahill thinks that is changing. "It is massive in Australia now," said Cahill. "For the last World Cup the nation stopped and there hasn't been a bigger event in Australia since that.
"It's massive and it is where it should be, up there fighting with the best codes and, if not, one of the leading codes. It is an honour and a privilege to play for Australia. To fly the flag for football in Australia, the kids and the people who have been dying for this for ages is a massive thing for us. To be fit and part of the squad fighting to do something special for Australia is something I have been waiting for for a long time."
It is only the third time the Socceroos have qualified for the FIFA World Cup but, having now done so in successive tournaments, Cahill believes they are ready to make their mark on the international game. Australia are now playing tougher competitive matches having moved from Oceania to the Asian confederation and most of their leading players are based in Europe.
"As a team we have improved one hell of a lot," said Cahill, 30, who has been one of Premier League's most influential players since moving to Goodison Park from Millwall in 2004. "The Asian group has been so difficult, playing against teams like Japan, Qatar and Bahrain - it has been as hard as when we last played Brazil. It has been really hard but the players have improved domestically playing for their clubs. They are doing better and a lot more boys are coming overseas."
Australia have been handed a tough draw in South Africa having been grouped with Germany, Serbia and Ghana. They begin their Group D campaign against Germany in Durban on 13 June and Cahill is both excited and confident.
"It is weird now we are finally there and the domestic season is over," he added. "To have the World Cup finally here is a great feeling. My first expectation would be to get through the group. After that, we saw in the last World Cup in Germany that anything can happen. It is a World Cup final every game you play, it is 90 minutes of football and whoever is better on the day wins. Everyone is starting at level par and for me the aim will be to get through the group and hopefully make a few surprises. The statistics show Germany are always there or thereabouts.
"We know how strong they are as a team, so for us it is about concentrating on our strengths and trying to break them down slowly. They are slow starters in most competitions they play so hopefully we can catch them cold. Ghana are dangerous, being one of the strongest teams in Africa and having the powerhouses of (Michael) Essien and (Stephen) Appiah and a few other Premier League players. And the dark horses would have to be Serbia, I think they are strong as well."
With a number of the squad having played and caught the eye at Germany 2006, when Australia reached the last 16 and suffered last-gasp defeat to eventual champions Italy, Cahill feels the Socceroos have vital experience on their side. He said: "It will definitely help. We get a different chance now to do it again. We are more experienced and have more game time under our belt, so maybe we can do something special."