WORLD CUP: Cahill chases history, place in Australia squad
SYDNEY (AP) — Tim Cahill wants to join an elite list of World Cup scorers to sit alongside Pele, Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose.
If he makes the cut for Australia's 23-man squad, the 38-year-old Cahill has a good chance of becoming just the fourth player to score in four consecutive World Cups.
When Australia needs goals it turns to Cahill. The forward has scored almost half of the team's World Cup goals: 5 of 11.
The Socceroos have Cahill to thank for their first World Cup win in 2006 by scoring late goals against Japan. Cahill scored both in Australia's Asian playoff win over Syria late last year as a place at a fourth consecutive World Cup was clinched.
But age, a lack of playing time since he returned to English side Millwall, and the fact Australia's newly hired coach Bert van Marwijk wants to select a squad based on recent form rather than reputation, mean his spot in Russia is far from guaranteed.
It's just part of the uncertainty over preparations for a group stage that will see No. 40-ranked Australia play a trio of sides in the top 12: France (7), Peru (11) and Denmark (12).
Van Marwijk was appointed only in January on a short-term deal to replace Ange Postecoglou, who quit after guiding the team through the longest qualifying path to Russia. Van Marwijk helped Saudi Arabia secure a spot in Russia before quitting that job — and his first game in charge of Australia was a 4-1 loss to Norway in March.
With a new formation in the works, Cahill's best chance of playing time is likely as an impact player from the bench.
Here's a closer look at the Australia team:
Van Marwijk took on the job saying his mission was to help Australia survive the group stage. He guided Netherlands to the 2010 World Cup final, and coached Saudi Arabia to an automatic berth in Russia from a group that included Australia. He said that gave him a good idea of Australia's strengths and weaknesses.
He will be the third Dutch coach to guide Australia at the World Cup, following Guus Hiddink in 2006 and Pim Verbeek in 2010.
Mat Ryan of English Premier League club Brighton has been Australia's first-choice since 2012 and was voted goalkeeper of the tournament when the Socceroos won the 2015 Asian Cup on home soil.
The 36-year-old Brad Jones looms is a late contender to challenge Ryan after keeping a clean sheet in the first half of the friendly against Colombia, his first action for Australia since March 2014. Jones is aiming to be part of a World Cup campaign after missing out in 2010 in South Africa after his son, Luca, was diagnosed with cancer just before the tournament opener. His recall by Van Marwijk follows an impressive season at Feyenoord.
The most question marks over Australia's formation will be at the back, with Van Marwijk dispensing with the 3-4-3 formation that exposed some defensive holes in the qualifying campaign and plenty of criticism for Postecoglou. Trent Sainsbury and Matt Jurman missed the recent friendlies but are expected to play central roles in Russia. Milos Degenek and Aziz Behich will be pushing for starting spots.
Internal competition is most intense in the midfield. Skipper Mile Jedinak and Aaron Mooy have been steady regulars and Tom Rogic has been a reliable playmaker and attacking threat. Queens Park Rangers midfielder Massimo Luongo has added another dimension recently with his timing and fast footwork. Jedinak and Jackson Irvine offer versatility as options in the midfield or defensive line.
The Australians will likely struggle to score in open play against quality defenses. Tomi Juric scored six in qualifying to top the Australian scoring list. He's hoping the three goals against the Saudis will help his claims for selection. Cahill and Matthew Leckie have established credentials and Jamie Maclaren's recent form at Hibernian has increased his chances of a callup.
Australia will be based in Kazan and open Group C in the southwest city against France on June 16. After playing Denmark on June 21, Australia closes against Peru on June 26.