With a veteran squad looking to build on a Round of 16 performance at Germany 2006, Australia will be making a third appearance in the World Cup, yet its first as a representative from the Asian confederation after switching FIFA regions four years ago.
The Socceroos were the first nation to qualify for South Africa, going 6-0-2 in their final-round qualifiers and conceding just one goal in those eight games. That defensive mind-set is a hallmark for coach Pim Verbeek's squad, which will rely on Brett Emerton, Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell to provide the offensive spark against its opponents in Group D, which might be this World Cup's toughest foursome from top to bottom.
With both Germany and Ghana losing their superstar captains (due to injury), Australia will look to benefit to make a second straight appearance in the knockout rounds and perhaps advance further than 2006, when the Socceroos lost to eventual champion Italy in the second round on a questionable late penalty call.
Coach: Pim Verbeek
Verbeek has been Australia's head coach since December 2007, after previously helming South Korea in 2006-07 and serving as an assistant coach for South Korea at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. The Dutchman, a protégé of countryman Guus Hiddink, prefers to rely on a solid defense supported by two holding midfielders and a lone striker to lead his offense. Verbeek announced earlier this year that he is leaving the Australia post after the World Cup to become youth director for Morocco's national team.
Style of play
Few opponents will look forward to playing Australia, which will be solid on defense and creative in midfield. Verbeek's side will line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and count on a number of 2006 holdovers to lead the way, although the squad does lack a true center-forward with former frontman Mark Viduka taking a break from international football.
Players to watch
1. Lucas Neill. Australia's captain since October 2006, Neill is a defensive anchor for Verbeek, partnering Craig Moore in the center of defense. After a number of years playing professionally in England -- most notably with Blackburn -- the 32-year-old joined Harry Kewell at Galatasaray in January of this year. A tough-yet-composed center back, Neill had a solid performance in the 2006 World Cup but gave up the penalty to Italy.
2. Tim Cahill. Australia's joint top scorer in qualifying, Cahill is his team's biggest star and most inspirational player. The diminutive midfielder has a knack for scoring goals for club and country, and provided Australia's first goal at the World Cup finals in a come-from-behind win over Japan in 2006. With Everton in England's Premier League since 2004, "Tiny Tim" has reached double figures in goals the past two club seasons.
3. Brett Emerton. The versatile and aggressive Emerton has been a stalwart with English Premier League side Blackburn for years, after contributing to Dutch club Feyenoord's UEFA Cup-winning team in 2001. The veteran international can play at right back or on the right side of midfield, yet should be positioned in a more attacking role at this World Cup with Luke Wilkshire assuming Australia's fullback slot on that side.
Mark Schwarzer. Australia's top keeper is currently considered one of the best at his position in England's Premier League. Always consistent, Schwarzer has helmed Fulham's defense for the past two club seasons and helped lead the Cottagers to the final of this year's Europa League competition. The 6-foot-5 keeper recorded seven clean sheets in Australia's eight final qualifying matches, and has also made a name for himself stopping penalty kicks, as his heroics in a shootout with Uruguay sent the Socceroos to the 2006 World Cup.
Harry Kewell. Plagued by a series of injuries over the years, Kewell has played with Galatasaray in Turkey the past two seasons to reignite his career. Considered one of his nation's most gifted players, the 31-year-old winger starred for Leeds United a decade ago before joining Liverpool and winning the UEFA Champions League in 2005. Kewell is working on overcoming a groin injury to play an attacking role in what should be his final appearance in a World Cup.
Three key questions
1. Who will take up Mark Viduka's role at center forward? The Socceroos' main weakness is the lack of a top-line striker, with former Leeds, Celtic and Newcastle forward Viduka not appearing for Australia since 2007. With Scott McDonald cut from Verbeek's final squad, that means Kewell or Brett Holman may be moved further forward in attack, to assume a striker role ahead of newcomer Nikita Rukavytsya.
2. Will the Aussies' defense hold up against top competition? Neill and Moore bolster a strong defense that shut down opponents during World Cup qualifying, yet the Aussies will face stronger foes with more formidable strikers in Group G matchups. Midfielders Jason Culina and Vince Grella will be counted on to support the back four when Australia defends against the likes of Miroslav Klose and Nikola Zigic.
3. How will Verbeek fare in a lame-duck role? With Verbeek's decision to leave his Australia post after the World Cup, there is no pressure for him to prove his worth to national team officials. Australia's side is full of veteran professionals who will surely play with pride for their country, yet how will the status of its coach affect the team's performance?
G Mark Schwarzer, Fulham (England)
D Luke Wilkshire, Dynamo Moscow (Russia)
D Lucas Neill, Galatasaray (Turkey)
D Craig Moore, unattached (most recently with AO Kavala, Greece)
D Scott Chipperfield, FC Basle (Switzerland)
M Vince Grella, Blackburn (England)
M Jason Culina, Gold Coast United (Australia)
M Brett Emerton, Blackburn (England)
M Tim Cahill, Everton (England)
M Mark Bresciano, Palermo (Italy)
F Harry Kewell, Galatasaray (Turkey)