Australia stepped up their fitness preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ with an arduous fitness-based first training session at their Johannesburg base.
There was not a ball in sight at St Stithians College as fitness and conditioning coach Darren Burgess put the Socceroos through a running-only session with the team looking to adapt to training at 1700 metres above sea level. The Socceroos are one of the few nations to have arrived in South Africa so far and captain Lucas Neill believes that arriving early to train in the conditions they will face during the tournament could give his side a competitive edge.
"We're trying to get used to this altitude 1700m above sea level. No-one was shocked to not see a ball come out," he said. "Everyone did really well and it's great to have a fully fit team now to be participating in training and I'm sure there is going to be a lot more focus on the running and fitness side, just to get used to altitude, and then slowly getting used to the ball and the way it moves in the air. Ten days here will make us a very fit team."
Brett Emerton was the only player not to participate in the session as he battles a calf injury, while Harry Kewell took his place without discomfort. Neill admitted it was good to finally be in South Africa after experiencing a "circus" build-up before their departure from Australia. The Socceroos left their homeland earlier this week after their 2-1 farewell friendly win over New Zealand, and while Neill said he enjoyed the send-off he was happy to now be concentrating on the finals.
"Australia was great to be there with the people, but it was a little bit of a circus if we are being honest," he said. "There was a little bit too much to do and a little bit less focus on the football and now that is all behind us we can focus on one thing and that's to try and become a winning team."
Neill, who was part of the 2006 squad captained by Mark Viduka, spoke on his honour of becoming just the third Australian to captain a FIFA World Cup side. "It's the greatest honour you can possibly imagine, the first to walk out on the field, leading a team that's hungry and determined to want to be successful," he added. "It's past any dream you can every have and to do it in a great stage against the best in the world is amazing for me."