Schwarzer ready for tough test
In-form Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer expects Saturday's crucial AFC Asian Cup qualifier against Oman at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex to prove the toughest assignment of the campaign to date.
Pim Verbeek's men will enter the clash as strong favourites despite being pushed to the limit in last month's 1-0 victory over the Omanis at Etihad Stadium. But the underrated visitors were unlucky not to earn a point in Melbourne and the custodian expects an even tougher task on enemy territory.
A win will see either side take the outright lead in Group B, with both nations currently locked on four points after three matches ahead of Kuwait on three and Indonesia on two points. The top two sides earn a place in the 2011 finals in Qatar.
"They're a good side, we knew before the match (in Melbourne) that they were going to give us a tough match and we knew that they couldn't underestimate them and the same goes for Saturday," Schwarzer told Sky Sports Radio on Wednesday. "We know they're really going to be coming at us and they're playing at home and they play a different style of football when they're at home and we know we're going to have our work cut out for us on Saturday."
Schwarzer admits he was surprised to learn Scott McDonald had been left out of the squad but backed the Celtic striker to fight his way back. "You know that he's scoring goals for Celtic week in week out and obviously the manager has his reasons for it," he said. "But you just get on with it and the manager's got everyone's support 100 per cent and I'm sure that Scotty will keep knocking on the door and I'm sure he'll put his hand up as much as possible to try and get back in the squad."
McDonald's omission has sparked speculation Verbeek will use Harry Kewell as a striker, but Schwarzer insists the coach is yet to settle on his formation. "The manager's not far from me right now so I could ask him if you like, I doubt that he'll actually tell us if he is or not," Schwarzer joked.
"Today was our very first session with pretty much almost the entire squad together and it was sort of split up half way through because a lot of us arrived late last night or very early this morning. From tomorrow we'll really hit the ground running and start to really prepare for the match on Saturday."
Long time retired
Meanwhile, the 37-year-old says he still has the motivation to keep playing at the highest level and has no intention of handing over the No.1 shirt just yet. "If anything I probably train harder the older I become," he said. "I know that certain parts of the body I need to work on more than others. I don't miss training very often and I don't like to miss training."
"I think for me it's always just been a case of staying sharp and training as much as I can and maintaining all the little weaknesses you might feel that you have on your body and making sure your maintenance is up to scratch. The hunger's still there as much as ever, if anything it's more. I think the closer you get towards the end of your career the more you realise that you love playing and you want to continue to play at the highest level possible."