Australia will have a clutch of English Premier League stars back for next week's clash with Japan as they look to top their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying group, coach Pim Verbeek said on Thursday.
The Aussies are favourites to claim Group A after a 2-0 win over Bahrain in Sydney on Wednesday and Japan's 1-1 home draw with Qatar, leaving the Blue Samurai two points adrift and needing to beat the Socceroos in Melbourne next Wednesday.
Everton midfielder Tim Cahill was not risked against Bahrain because of injury, while Blackburn enforcer Vince Grella was only used as a second-half substitute. Verbeek said he planned to play his strongest available team against Japan. He is expecting striker Josh Kennedy to recover from injury and skipper Lucas Neill, who has turned down a contract extension offer from West Ham, will return following suspension.
"As far as I know Josh Kennedy and Timmy Cahill will be ready for next week and I didn't want to risk Vince Grella against Bahrain because he was on a yellow card and I needed him for next week," the Dutchman said. "If they are all available I think I will have a very strong team for next week.
"We will have 100,000 people in the stadium next week, who want to see the best available players and we want to be number one in the group so that is why we will try to give everything we have to win that game."
Verbeek said he will definitely be without defenders Luke Wilkshire and Mark Milligan, who played against Bahrain but have left to play with their clubs in Russia and China this weekend. Senior player Harry Kewell said it was important for Australia, unbeaten in seven final phase qualifying games, to continue winning against regional rivals Japan.
"It's a winning mentality. You want to stick to winning and enjoy that and you want to go into a World Cup winning. You don't want to go in coming off losing matches," the Galatasaray attacker said.
Australia have developed a fierce rivalry with Japan and came away from their away group game in Yokohama last February with a scoreless draw after a disciplined defensive performance.
The Australians scored three times in the final six minutes to overhaul Japan 3-1 in their opening match at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, but the Japanese knocked the Socceroos out in the quarter-finals of the 2007 AFC Asian Cup on penalties in Hanoi. Under Verbeek, Australia have lost two of their 13 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.