23 April 2008

Beijing Possibilities

First, Dean Bouzanis (or rather his agent) has finally suggested he will commit to Australia's Olympic campaign if selected for the climatisation camp in Malaysia.

He may have a tough fight on his hands for the starting job, though, with Velaphi and Federici also in the mix.

Second, Tarek Elrich reckons Harry Kewell would be keen to play in Beijing too, if asked. Kewell didn't get to play in Sydney in 2000 when he was eligible as an U-23 but injured, and neither was he selected as one of the three overage players for Athens in 2004.

If he's fit, I'm sure Arnold would be ready to oblige Kewell, but there's also the problem of his club status at the time Beijing kicks off. Coming off contract and likely to leave Liverpool, he may face a tricky situation with his new club, who will no doubt expect him to be available when the season begins. It's easy to imagine Kewell's next team compelling his non-attendance in Beijing, be it through an improved contract offer, internal disciplinary action, or what have you.

Mark Schwarzer and Brett Emerton are two other high profile national team members coming off contract at the end of June, clouding their availability if wanted (though neither probably is).

Meanwhile, Tim Cahill is injured, Mark Viduka is a very slim possibility indeed given his preference to maximise time away from national team duties. Jason Culina and Mark Bresciano could well be moving to new clubs over the northern summer, limiting the chances of their inclusion.

Then there's the case of potential overage players who are not necessarily first choice at their clubs: will they elect to fight for their place in the starting 11 at the dawn of a new season rather than cross the globe in August? Scott McDonald might find himself in that sort of quandry with Celtic boss Gordon Strachan clearly not a fan of his striker's travel requirements when representing Australia.

Yet, with the likes of Mascherano, Riquelme, Drogba and Toure lined up in opposing group teams, Australia's squad will undoubtedly require some bolstering.

So who will be chosen . . . and accept? Vinnie Grella? Josh Kennedy? Mile Sterjovski? Luke Wilkshire? Brett Holman? Or perhaps Nick Carle, whose selection might help seal the wound of being harshly overlooked for Athens?

22 April 2008

Pim Tells It Like It Is

I like this quote in regard to the sometimes difficult squad and team selection challenges that face the national manager:

I have 20 million people on my back wanting Australia to qualify for the next World Cup.

Damn straight.

But so far, although Pim's selections have raised a bit of controversy, he's more or less been proved 'correct'.

19 April 2008

Pim Assures Garcia

Hull City's right winger Richard Garcia has apparently received the nod of approval from Pim Verbeek and will be given every chance to attend the next national team training camp.

Hull currently lie in 2nd place in the Championship, with a very strong chance of promotion to the EPL next season.

Always good to see new talent in good form being given the opportunity to make an impression. I'm hopeful that someone like Garcia will probably make a stunning rise within the national set-up, pretty much in the same way Tim Cahill did during our last World Cup campaign. David Carney seems to have already made a mark, but I think there's room for one or two more bolters in the current sqaud.

10 April 2008

The Commitment Conundrum

Should Mark Viduka -- and others who have voiced a similar ploy (e.g. Mark Bresciano) -- be allowed to pick the games in which they represent their country?

The common consensus seems to resound 'no'. The players ought to commit to World Cup qualification and do everything in their power to fly out for matches on the other side of the planet a few days either side of appearances in their domestic leagues.

Under these terms, Viduka, it seems, is unwanted by the majority of the public fan base.

But what if we were to select a World Cup squad tomorrow and Viduka declared himself eligible? Would we want him to be picked for the team?

I think the answer might be different. We'd want to take our very best team into the tournament. Only a diabolical personality conflict or attitude problem would normally see a player unceremoniously barred from selection. Those issues are not relevant in Viduka's case. He simply wants to avoid material wear and tear on his body and no doubt is more comfortable being close to the comforts of home and his young family these days instead of running amok with some of the younger lads from the national squad. In my ethical universe, there's no sense of the nation's pride being held at stake here. It's a personal preference of a veteran player who has produced superlative performances in various youth and senior national teams for something like 15 years. Is it so difficult to show a bit of leniency? To offer a sort of long service reward?

I'm not sure I understand what all the fuss is about (though, I'm about as strict a nationalist as I am unopinionated). Viduka, when he chooses to play, will probably be needed. He'll pick his moments with as much knowledge as any of us, meaning that a friendly against Singapore is unlikely to attract his attention but a crunch qualifier with China might. If he turns up, I think many fans will be relieved. Even some of those pulling out the knives at the moment.

In the meantime, Pim Verbeek will have the opportunity to trial Viduka's successors in the arguably somewhat less meaningful and friendlies and less important qualifying matches (e.g. any games still to play after we've already qualified for Round 4). Without so much pressure on their performance, McDonald, Kennedy and the younger guns yet to make much of an impression will consider themselves fortunate: unlike Viduka's early days, when in every match he was expected to be Australia's cheeky backheeling hero or marauding striker menace, they'll be able to do no wrong. If they have a bad outing it'll probably be skipped over in the 'whatever, we've qualified or will soon, when Viduka comes back' news. If they score a brace, they'll be praised accordingly.

The situation does raise the question though: if Viduka gets his wish, who'll be next to ask for the same treatment?