MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Factbox on the Australia national team ahead of the 2018 World Cup:
FIFA ranking: 40 (till June 7)
Previous tournaments: Australia have qualified for four World Cups prior to Russia, including the last three. Their best performance was 2006 in Germany, when they reached the last 16. They failed to reach the knockouts in the last two tournaments and in their maiden World Cup in West Germany in 1974.
Coach: Bert van Marwijk: The 65-year-old Dutchman was appointed coach of the Socceroos in late January, only months after guiding Saudi Arabia through qualification for Russia. After leaving the Green Falcons over contractual problems, Van Marwijk replaced Ange Postecoglou, who steered Australia to Russia before quitting in November.
Van Marwijk coached Netherlands to the final of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa but resigned after they crashed out of the 2012 European Championship.
He is likely to take a pragmatic approach with a modest Australia side in Russia, stacking the defence and seeking goals on the counterattack.
Tim Cahill: Australia’s dependence on 38-year-old Cahill, the country’s most prolific scorer with 50 goals in 105 appearances, is symbolic of the nation’s failure to regenerate after the passing of the ‘Golden Generation’ a decade ago. But he remains revered by home fans as a proven big-stage performer, having netted five goals from the past three World Cups. His years as an attacking midfielder are long gone, but Cahill remains a threat near the goalmouth and a menace in the air.
Mile Jedinak: Australia stand just a bit taller when their bearded captain is on the pitch and team management will have fingers crossed that the defensive midfield stalwart can stay fit throughout the tournament. The 33-year-old missed plenty of football last year due to a problematic groin, but underlined his value with a two-penalty hat-trick against Honduras to book Australia’s ticket to Russia. The Socceroos’ go-to man for spot kicks, Jedinak has 18 goals from his 75 appearances, second only to Cahill in the squad.
Mathew Leckie: One of the few Socceroos getting regular minutes in a top European league, Germany-based winger Leckie made a barnstorming start with four goals in five matches for Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin and returned to form in recent weeks after a lean patch in mid-season. During Postecoglou’s last year in charge, he was used predominantly as a wing-back, but may be afforded more latitude to attack under Van Marwijk. Australia will hope the Melbourne man can add to his modest tally of six goals in 51 appearances, as well as setting up Cahill and striker Tomi Juric up front.
Van Marwijk’s first game in charge was described by Australian media as a “horror show” as the Socceroos went down 4-1 away to Norway in a friendly in March before they produced a more assured effort to hold Colombia 0-0 days later in another World Cup warmup in London.
Prior to Van Marwijk’s arrival, Australia were undefeated in five matches under Postecoglou, which included World Cup qualifier wins over Syria, Thailand and Honduras.
How they qualified:
Australia made hard work of the final phase of Asian qualifying, finishing third in their group and missing out on an automatic berth to Russia. They scraped past Syria in a two-leg Asian playoff to earn the right for a final intercontinental playoff against Honduras. They were more convincing against the Central Americans, holding them to a 0-0 draw away before securing their pass to Russia with a 3-1 win in the second leg at home.
Prospects: Van Marwijk has set the Socceroos the goal of reaching the last 16 but with no world-class players, it would be an achievement for them to avoid three straight defeats let alone advance from Group C where they play France, Denmark and Peru.
Their best hope may be to scrape a draw in their opener if mercurial France have an off-night, then push desperately for a win in one of the other games. Australia never lack fighting spirit, however, and with a burst of magic from veteran Cahill, the underdogs could well spring at least one surprise.
Compiled by Ian Ransom; Editing by Toby Davis