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World Cup 2006 profile

Australia is for real this time and looks to make waves

Posted: Tuesday February 14, 2006 12:59PM; Updated: Wednesday May 17, 2006 2:25PM
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Mark Viduka is a big target and is Australia's most potent attacking weapon.
Mark Viduka is a big target and is Australia's most potent attacking weapon.
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By Gregory Sica, SI.com

Through late April, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week. We continue with Australia. Click here for the full archive.

FIFA world ranking: No. 42.

How they qualified for Germany: As champions of the Oceania World Cup qualifying tournament, the Aussies went on to play South America's fifth-ranked team, Uruguay, in a two-leg playoff. After losing the first leg 1-0 in Montevideo, they tied the series with a 1-0 win in Sydney and went on to book a spot in the World Cup after a 4-2 victory in a penalty shootout.

Previous World Cups: One appearance (1974).

Manager: Guus Hiddink, second year with team.

Key players

Midfielder Mark Bresciano has proven to be a player who appears at the right moment -- he demonstrated this once again when he scored the vital goal against Uruguay that allowed the Socceroos to reach the crucial shootout. Bresciano's technical ability and never-give-up approach have helped him to establish himself as the first Australian player to succeed in Italy's Serie A, arguably the toughest league in the world.

Australia's main target, Mark Viduka, may be big in stature (6-foot-2, 199 pounds), but he possesses a unique kind of prowess that has become the trademark of his game. The Melbourne-born striker has proven to be a handful for some of the world's finest defenders -- he has incredible shot accuracy. Although he's been plagued by injuries through much of his career, his recent form for English Premier League club Middlesbrough suggests that he is back to his all-time best. Viduka is Australia's most potent attacking weapon and his form could determine whether his country advances to the knockout round.

What to watch for

Australia still possesses the same traditional tactics of intimidating and pressuring opponents, but since the arrival of Dutch mastermind Hiddink, the Socceroos have become a much more solid unit. Not only do they try to disrupt opponents from playing their game, but the emergence of talented attacking players Bresciano and Tim Cahill has also added an extra dimension to their game, alleviating pressure from the defense. As they proved against Uruguay, they have what it takes to match up with top opposition. If star striker Harry Kewell is on top of his game, a one-two punch with Viduka will give Australia a good chance of advancing.

This team's main weakness heading into the World Cup is its injuries: Veteran defender Tony Vidmar is out and Cahill, Viduka, Kewell and goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer are also banged up. The Aussies' defensive unit is also aging and may run out of steam as the tournament progresses -- add to that few options from the bench and Australia definitely has an Achilles heel.

The World Cup will be Hiddink's swan song with the Socceroos, as the Dutchman will take over the Russian national team as his next reclamation project. His last gasp with Australia could be as interesting as his final go-around with South Korea in '98.

Group: F (Brazil, Croatia, Japan).

Key match in group stage: June 22 vs. Croatia. This is the final match of the group, and it's very likely the winner will advance to the knockout round, along with Brazil.

Oddsmakers' line: 125-1.

Projected Starting Lineup
Pos. Player Club team
G Mark Schwarzer Middlesbrough (England)
D Lucas Neill Blackburn Rovers (England)
D Tony Popovic Crystal Palace (England)
D Craig Moore Newcastle United (England)
D Scott Chipperfield FC Basel (Switzerland)
M Vince Grella Parma (Italy)
M Jason Culina PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands)
M Marco Bresciano Parma (Italy)
M Tim Cahill Everton (England)
F Harry Kewell Liverpool (England)
F Mark Viduka Middlesbrough (England)


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