Mark Viduka and Craig Moore, two of Australia’s stalwarts from the last World Cup in Germany, continue to refuse to commit to South Africa 2010.
But Pim Verbeek’s confident progress in charge of the Pkv Poker Socceroos is allaying fears Australia still rely on a handful of big name players to advance their international cause.
Viduka’s greatest concern is a long-standing Achilles tendon injury.
He surprised many by meeting up with the Australia squad in Brisbane ahead of their 4-0 cakewalk against Qatar, but Viduka’s long-term Socceroos future wasn’t on the agenda according Verbeek.
The Dutchman still takes Viduka’s word of last April when, on a whistlestop trip around Europe, Viduka promised he’d play a part in South Africa.
Verbeek added that the fact Viduka simply turned up in Brisbane – despite not being named in a 35-man extended training party – was proof enough of his national team commitment.
However, Viduka was primarily back home to gauge a second opinion on his troublesome injury from Socceroos medical staff, a problem which reportedly will not require surgery and might see him playing again in the English Premier League this season.
“It’s a step-by-step process to play for Australia and the first stage is to get back playing for my club again,” Viduka told the Australian press. “I don’t want to rush anything.
“I’ve got to be 100 per cent fit and sure in my mind that my heel is strong enough. When that happens I’ll be back for Australia. I’ve always loved playing for my country.”
Moore, meanwhile, made a comfortable return to international action after a self-imposed eight-month exile but after the match again refused to be drawn on committing to a second World Cup finals.
Injury is not the major concern for Moore, who’s in his best shape for some seasons and is enjoying the slower pace of life playing for Queensland Roar and living on the sun-kissed Gold Coast.
It has more to do with the scheduling of the Australia domestic season for the former national team skipper.
Moore, whose European club career appears closed, doesn’t believe he’ll necessarily be in the right shape come June 2010 and South Africa. The A-League season finishes in February, meaning a significant break from competitive action and that’s a worry for central defender.
Before the 2006 World Cup, uncertainty over Viduka and Moore’s national team future would have caused waves to crash through the Socceroos camp.
Not these days.
The fact that the biggest question in the build-up to the Qatar qualifier was whether Moore would even win his place back from Chris Coyne speaks for itself.
Moore’s experience and better use of the ball from defence saw him replace the Colchester United captain. He’d had little to do but slotted back into the green and gold as if he’d never been away.
Viduka, however, might not return with such ease. There might have been a glimmer of envy as he watched German-based striker Josh Kennedy put in a man-of-the-match display in Brisbane, scoring once and beautifully setting up another for Brett Emerton.
Scott McDonald, Kennedy’s strike partner, looked less at home, but Verbeek is unlikely to want to play Kennedy and Viduka together upfront in any case. There’s Harry Kewell to come back from a groin strain too.
While competition for outfield places has heated up, Verbeek’s dilemma over his goalkeepers for the World Cup refuses to simplify.
Mark Schwarzer has committed to playing through to 2010, setting himself the private aim of 75 national team caps before he hangs up his gloves.
But Schwarzer will be 37 by the time the tournament rolls around and there is precious little pressure on the incumbent goalkeeper.
“Obviously it’s been a little bit of a concern. The major issues are players are not playing regular football,” said Schwarzer. “There are talented goalkeepers out there but if you’re not playing week-in week-out football it’s very difficult to be chosen for your national team. That’s probably the biggest concern for the national team.”
Whereas at the 2006 World Cup under Guus Hiddink there was no clear No.1 (Hiddink turned to Schwarzer’s deputy Zeljko Kalac for the crucial group decider against Croatia), there’s now no obvious No.2 to the Fulham custodian.
Since taking charge of Australia at the start of the year, Verbeek has selected a remarkable nine goalkeepers for either training camps or matches
And that doesn’t even include Jess van Strattan, the former Juventus goalkeeper who recently agreed terms with incoming franchise Gold Coast United.
Van Strattan will be first choice for the newcomers when they enter the league next August and might just have left himself enough time to push for a spot in South Africa.