BRETT EMERTON and his rugged Australians are ready to take a stranglehold on the Group of Death when they kick-off their Group D campaign at Durban’s spectacular Moses Mabhida Stadium on June 13.
The unfancied Aussies open their campaign against Germany in the Group D which also features Serbia – beaten last week by New Zealand – and Ghana, who have lost the talismanic Michael Essien through injury.
Germany, the group favourites ranked sixth in the world, beat Bosnia 3-1 last night but Australia, ranked 20th, are beginning to see the light as Serbia (15th) and Ghana (32nd) struggle before the tournament. Emerton says: “I think it’s looking good. Talent wise we have a good blend of youth and experience and we could go a long way in this World Cup.”
Serbia followed their shock defeat against the Kiwis (ranked 78) with a goalless draw against Poland last time out. Ghana, without Essien, were crushed 4-1 by Holland while the Aussies were seeing off the Danes 1-0 in Ruimsig near Johannesburg.
Australia were the first team to arrive at their training camp in Kloofsicht, Muldersdrift, about 45 minutes from Johannesburg last Thursday. While their rivals are still contemplating jet-lag and altitude problems, Pim Verbeek’s Socceroos have been here for a week and Emerton insists: “From what I have seen in camp and in training the boys are physically in good condition and everyone is excited about playing in a World Cup. We are all in together and will do everything we can to ensure that each and every one of us is in the best shape of our lives.”
It seems like just yesterday Emerton was an ambitious young Australian pushing to play at the top level in Europe. Today he is 31, and his aggression and energy have made him a vital cog for both Blackburn and the Socceroos, where his history stretches back 12 years and 72 caps.
As he homes in on the Aussie record of 87 appearances alongside goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer of Fulham, Emerton recalls his days as a youngster in Bankstown, Sydney, when the 1990 World Cup was of interest to a small migrant minority. He grins: “For me growing up I loved the World Cup. Since we Germany in 2006 (where they were only knocked out by a last-minute goal from eventual winners Italy) football in Australia has really gone on leaps and bounds. This time we could really push football in Australia on to another level.
“When I was growing up, the interest was nowhere near as much as it is now. We played Greece in a farewell game at the MCG and there were just under 100,000 fans there.”
The Aussies will be cheered on in Durban by a vast army of fans planning to camp in a tent city at Durban’s Kingsmead cricket ground.
The Aussies generally start rugby and cricket World Cups among the favourites while the Socceroos have always been the outsiders – they are ranked a distant 125-1 to bookmakers Paddy Power this time.
It’s different. A lot of us boys have been there and done it before and know what to expect and know what hard work needs to be done in order to achieve a good result over.
“Hopefully some of the more experienced players are using that to rub off on the younger boys and hopefully, if we all put in the hard work together we can achieve great things.”