Tim Cahill has a knack of being in the right place at the right time. It is an uncanny skill that's earned him superstar status in his native Australia, and adoration among the throng of Everton fans who delight in the frequency of his corner flag-punching goal celebration.
The versatile midfielder's uncanny ability to spring a surprise earned him a place in Australian folklore four years ago, when he scored his country's maiden FIFA World Cup™ goal and then hit another to help claim a last-gasp victory over Japan and a place in the Round of 16. That was as far as Cahill and his team-mates were to go, though, as Francesco Totti's injury-time penalty for Italy tore their dream to shreds.
Memories of Germany are assured for Cahill this time around, too, as the three-time world champions pose the first threat to Australia's ambitions in South Africa. It's a match that could threaten Pim Verbeek's side's pursuit of success, but as the 30-year-old enjoys a renaissance at Goodison Park after a ponderous start to the Premier League campaign, he's anxious to shoot down German hopes and write a new chapter in the Socceroos' history books.
As one of the biggest summers of his life edges ever closer, FIFA.com spoke to Cahill about the challenge of overcoming Germany, his reputation as Australia's secret weapon and, as a UNICEF ambassador, what he hopes the FIFA World Cup will do for South Africa.
FIFA.com: Tim, what are your memories of watching the FIFA World Cup as a boy?
Tim Cahill: As a kid, for me, it was Roberto Baggio kicking that penalty over the bar (at USA 1994) and (Toto) Schillaci making a name for himself (at Italy 1990), scoring for Italy every time he had the chance. I used to try and emulate players like Bebeto and Romario, too. I like watching players like Bebeto and Schillaci, opportunist players who seize the moment, do something different and make something happen.
You 'seized the moment' in the game against Japan at Germany 2006, but how disappointed were you to be on the bench?
Oh yes, I was very disappointed, but looking back on it now, we had such a good squad that I can see why the manager [Guus Hiddink] made his decision. Plus, it allowed me to achieve one of the greatest things in my life: coming off the bench to score two score twice, including Australia's first-ever World Cup goal. So in hindsight, there are no regrets.
We know they’re very disciplined and tactically very strong but, as it's the first game, there's no reason why we can't catch them cold.
You were knocked out of the last FIFA World Cup by Francesco Totti's injury-time penalty for Italy. That denied you a place in the quarter-finals. How did that feel?
It hurt, especially with the penalty being given when we were so close to extra time, and with them only having ten men. I remember standing, putting my hands on my head and thinking: 'Please don’t shatter my dreams'. The only positive I can take from it is that Italy went on to win the World Cup and we were probably one of their toughest opponents in the competition. I think things happen for a reason. For us, it was a great learning experience because it showed that if you don’t punish a team with ten men during 90 minutes, then anything can happen.
Australia’s South Africa 2010 campaign begins with a match against Germany. How tough is that going to be?
It’s going to be very difficult. When I was sitting there watching the draw I thought: 'Oh, here we go'. We were in Germany for the last World Cup so it did bring back some memories. We know they’re very disciplined and tactically very strong but, as it's the first game, there's no reason why we can't catch them cold. The most special thing about the group matches in the World Cup is that they are down to just 90 minutes, or 93 minutes, of football. They are sudden-death games and anything can happen. A draw and a win can sometimes get you through the group stage, regardless of whether you win the first game. I’m just excited about it. I think the most important thing for us is to take each game at a time and not get ahead of ourselves.
They say you should never write off the Germans. Why is that?
I think it's because Germany have always been there or thereabouts in every competition they’ve played in. In a lot of competitions they start off slowly but they get stronger as the tournament goes on. I think it's down to their discipline, their formation, their squad, and how thorough they are on and off the pitch. It’s a massive credit to them and their country. But we're aware of that and we'll be just as disciplined.
You’ve been described as Australia’s secret weapon. Why do you think that is?
I think I've got the knack of scoring goals and being in the right place at the right time, but my priority is to work hard and to do a good job for the team. It's great that people say that about me, but I've got to make sure that I keep doing it on a regular basis. It's difficult on the international stage because the game is sometimes slower and a lot of teams can sit behind the ball, so I have to find the knack of scoring from a set-play or getting in behind their defence. You just keep going and don't stop.
The only positive I can take from it is that Italy went on to win the World Cup and we were probably one of their toughest opponents in the competition.
You're no longer such a secret, but which of the new generation of Socceroos do you think will shine in South Africa?
Several have a chance in a variety of areas. Dario Vidosic, who is playing for Nuremberg, is very quick. We've got Alex Brosque, who plays in the A-League, who comes in and does well, Nicky Carle too, so there's three names to watch out for!
Finally, you do a lot of work for UNICEF and other charities. What would you like to see come out of the FIFA World Cup being held in South Africa ?
As footballers, we are some of the biggest superstars on the planet. It’s nice to be able to inspire kids to live a better life, to eat right, and to try and go in the right direction. I think if you can change the thought process of one in ten, or even one in 1,000, then you’ve done your job. And if you can use your image to help in the right way then I’m all for it. I’m lucky enough to play with South Africa’s Steven Pienaar at Everton, so I understand a lot about the country. A lot of people are talking about the negatives but every country has its pros and cons. The positive thing is that it’s going to bring a flourish of football to South Africa, and happiness. It’s going to inspire the people who live there, those people who aspire just to see their country hold one of the biggest competitions in the world. That's why I feel so passionately about Australia bidding for the World Cup. If, for that short period of time, it takes kids off the streets and changes their lives as a result, then I’m sure that it’s going to be a success.