Australia midfielder Jason Culina believes the Socceroos are a better side than four years ago when the team made history by qualifying for the Round of 16 at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™. Culina’s energetic contribution in the heart of the Australian midfield has made him a virtual ever-present since his debut in 2005.
A starter in all four matches at Germany 2006, as well as at the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, Culina is well positioned to comment on the development of the team over recent years. The majority of the line-up for the Socceroos’ 2010 FIFA World Cup opener against Germany in Durban on 13 March will be made up of veterans from the campaign of four years ago, a fact which Culina believes is a major positive.
“Four years on, we’re all a lot more experienced, we’re all a lot older and you know we know what to expect this time,” said Culina, speaking exclusively to FIFA. “We know it’s not easy and there are a lot of great teams here at the World Cup, especially in our group, we have Germany, Serbia and Ghana, it’s going to be a very difficult task. We’re just going to go out there and enjoy ourselves, I think the most important thing is to enjoy the whole occasion, soak it all in, experience the great experiences that the World Cup has to offer. So we’re working as hard as we possibly can, I honestly feel that we are a better team this time round and hopefully we can go out there and show it against Germany come the weekend."
Still only 29, Culina returned to the A-League last year to turn out for new club Gold Coast United after a highly successful decade in the Netherlands. The Socceroos stalwart, who has formed a solid combination in a defensive midfield role alongside Vince Grella, is set to collect his 50th cap against the three-time world champions on Sunday, ahead of other group matches against Ghana and Serbia. His experience will add further to a team missing only Mark Viduka of those players who started all four matches at Germany 2006.
“I think we are well aware of what can happen to us if we’re not fully focused. There are a lot of great teams in this World Cup and especially in our group,” said Culina. “We’re going to come up against some tough teams, but this time round hopefully we’re a lot street-smarter, wiser and know how to handle those sorts of situations. The boys are more experienced now, we know what to expect, so we’re just going to go out there and give it our best.
“I think we’ve got to go out there and try and get something from it, whether it be a draw, a win - a win would be fantastic. But look, against the Germans, they’re a great team, so if we can get a draw that would be fantastic. But we’ve got to go into every game believing we can get a result, no matter who we’re playing against.”
“The team camaraderie here is absolutely fantastic; we’ve all been playing with each other for a number of years, some guys I’ve been playing with for ten to 15 years. You know these guys really well, you know what they want when they’re on the field, off the field it’s just a breeze. It may just well be the last World Cup for some of us, but we all want to play, we’re all committed to the national team, we love our country and we want to keep going as much as possible. I’m sure that the young boys who come in will do just as good a job because we’re blooding them now, giving them a chance and that’s exactly what they need, the experience. So I’m sure and I’m confident that Australia will continue on with what we’ve done in the past.”
With three Eredivisie titles with PSV Eindhoven on his resume, and having been schooled in the Dutch football system since his teenage years, Culina is well placed to appraise Australia coach Pim Verbeek. “(Pim’s) been absolutely fantastic for us and he’s a very intelligent guy, knows his football really really well and he’s going to be very well prepared for this. He knows the Germans well, being Dutch, so hopefully that will give us a bit of an advantage. Whether it be a tactical game or a physical game, the better team at the end of the day will come out on top.”