Australia's longest-serving goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer, says the Socceroos still believe they can achieve an against-the-odds qualification for the Round of 16. Pim Verbeek's side crashed to a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Germany in their Group D opener, but according to Schwarzer, the team spirit remains as strong as ever after their resilient 1-1 draw against Ghana, a result achieved despite playing a man short for 65 minutes.
Australia must defeat Serbia in Nelspruit today and rely either on a Ghana victory against Germany, or conversely a heavy win by the Germans. Schwarzer told FIFA.com: "The mood is definitely there, we can continue and go on against Serbia and get the result we need. It was very disappointing against Germany, the result, and more so the performance if anything. Against Ghana we were a lot better, we knew that we needed to lift our game and the performance was more like us. With 11 men on the pitch I think we would have won the game, and won it comfortably.”
Should the Socceroos fail to repeat their success of Germany 2006 when they were eliminated in the Round of 16 by eventual champions Italy, then the somewhat unlikely setting of the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit could be the venue where Schwarzer's FIFA World Cup™ story finally comes to a close. From his history-making penalty stops against Uruguay in 2005, to the devastation of that heavy defeat by Germany last week in Durban, Schwarzer's career has been intertwined with the competition.
Indeed his glittering 17-year international career, by far the longest of any player in Socceroo history, began with a FIFA World Cup assignment in the equally improbable setting of the Canadian city of Edmonton. Schwarzer, at just 21, was thrust into the white-hot heat of a qualifying play-off, entering the fray in the first half after the dismissal of first-choice goalkeeper Robert Zabica. A fortnight later in his hometown of Sydney, Schwarzer made his full debut, ending the match with two stops in a penalty shoot-out victory against Canada as Australia advanced to the final stage of qualifying, and an ultimately unsuccessful meeting with the Diego Maradona-led Argentina.
The mood is definitely there, we can continue and go on against Serbia and get the result we need.
Almost two decades on and Schwarzer, despite his 37 years, intimated to FIFA.com in April that he has no plans of retirement and that he wants to continue to "represent my country and play at the highest level as long as possible". His form in Fulham's historic run to the UEFA Europa League final in May belied his age and, with 75 caps – the most of any among the current squad – he is fast closing in on the 87-match record held by former Socceroos skipper and defender Alex Tobin. Yet if the AFC Asian Cup looms on the horizon next January, an appearance at Brazil 2014 seems unlikely at best.
Back to the here and now and Australia have no option but to go for three points against Serbia. Their strong-willed display against Ghana showed the traditional Socceroo spirit remains intact, despite the setback against Germany. "Without a doubt" was Schwarzer's unequivocal response when asked if the team had shown their true character after their disappointing opening display. "Everyone was 100 per cent behind each other [against Ghana] and we worked all week with getting things right on the football pitch and making sure we stick together and stayed focused on the game. We take a lot from the game. We played  minutes with ten men against a side like Ghana who were desperately trying to win to make their passage safe, yet if anything we probably created the more dangerous chances and disappointed in the end we only came away with a 1-1. [There was] bitter disappointment that we didn't win the match."