Pim Verbeek is happy to concede he is taking a calculated risk on Harry Kewell's fitness ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, but believes the player's qualities ensure it is worth it. The Australia coach included the 31-year-old in his 30-man provisional squad for the tournament, despite the latter having been restricted to just two minutes of football this year because of injury.
Kewell broke down again last week with a groin complaint that will hinder his preparations for South Africa 2010, with the Socceroos' opening Group D game against Germany exactly a month away. Verbeek admitted he would not have gambled on the fitness of any other player in his squad if they were in the same position, but short on striking options, he believes he can not overlook the Galatasaray man's qualities.
"I've spoken about Harry Kewell and I'm willing to speak about Harry again," said Verbeek. "Harry is special, so you can always take a risk with one player like him.
"If Harry is fit then he can be a special player for the team, so I will take a risk with Harry. Harry will be fit for the World Cup. People can think what they like, but Harry will be fit
"If Harry is fit then he can be a special player for the team, so I will take a risk with Harry. Harry will be fit for the World Cup. People can think what they like, but Harry will be fit."
Aside from Kewell, Verbeek said reputations would count for nothing when he decides on his final squad of 23, which must be forwarded to FIFA by 1 June. "The past is not important, at the moment, it's about the future and the future is that in four weeks time you start to play the World Cup," he said.
"I know about their qualities, that's a different story. First of course is quality, second is that I'll try to pick two players for every position. If you have a few players who can play several positions, that's an advantage for those players, because that's always what you need. We also have to find out if they are physically ready to do a job in the World Cup."
With Kewell likely to miss most of the Socceroos' warm-up games against New Zealand, Denmark and USA, the opportunity will fall to the likes of Josh Kennedy and Scott McDonald, who is yet to score for his country in 15 appearances, to stake a claim.
Verbeek, however, has not ruled out other options and indicated he may look towards former Perth Glory forward Nikita Rukavytsya, who has been in good goalscoring form with Belgian club Roeselare. "He's doing very well," the Dutchman said.
"He's a player who can bring something special. I'm very happy to have him in the final 30 and I think he is a big chance to be in the final 23. He's fast, he's scoring goals and he's working for 90 minutes.
"I can understand that while here Belgian football might not be on Fox, but I promise you he is doing well. He is very well respected in Belgian football. That's the kind of player we need at the World Cup, I give him a big chance, but he needs to show himself."