Neill tells Australians to believe in Roos
Socceroos captain Lucas Neill has implored Australia not to give up on their team as they chase a World Cup miracle in their Group D finale against Serbia.
Australia need to win their first match of the tournament in Nelspruit while hoping for a favourable result in the other fixture between Germany and Ghana at Soccer City to stand a chance of progeressing to the second round.
Australia need Ghana to upset Germany by any score, or Germany to defeat the Africans by a large margin to help the Socceroos overcome their awful goal difference and go through at Ghana's expense. But before worrying about events in Johannesburg they must focus on the considerable challenge of beating a Serbia side who are brimming with confidence, according to coach Radomir Antic.
While an Australian victory seems far-fetched on paper considering the Socceroos having collected just a single point from their first two games, they were beaten by a rampant Germany in their opening match before having the better of their 1-1 draw with Ghana after having a key man sent off in both matches.
Neill has sent a message to his nation that the players still have hope and so should they: "I urge everybody to believe like the team believes. There is still hope, there is still an opportunity. This team in the last three or four days has truly believed. We are not getting carried away, we know it is going to be a tough ask, but I would urge Australia, people watching back home, that this could be a history-writing game. I think you might be surprised - someone might come up to become a hero tonight.''
Antic also mentioned that word, "history", while talking up Serbia's chances of securing the victory that would guarantee them a top-two spot in Group D.
Antic said: "We know that we have an opportunity of historical significance and we will try to do our best. I would not like to put any additional pressure on my boys by saying they have to, but when I say I believe in my team, I say it quite truthfully. I am not just saying it. I am optimistic because I know how my boys have performed during their last three training sessions - these were actually the best three sessions ever. This shows their spirit and now we have an opportunity to show it.''
Australia welcome back Tim Cahill from suspension but lose Harry Kewell and Craig Moore to bans, Kewell for the controversial red card he received for a handball on the goal-line that dented Australia's hopes of taking full points from the Ghana clash.
Michael Beauchamp looms as the most logical choice to replace Moore in the centre of defence given the importance of extra height to deal with the tournament's tallest player in Serbia striker Nikola Zigic. Pim Verbeek might introduce his own beanpole Josh Kennedy to lead the line with Cahill in behind, meaning one of Mark Bresciano or Brett Holman would be the unlucky candidates to be relegated to the bench unless Verbeek changed from his usual 4-2-3-1 system.
Antic has a fit squad to choose from but faces a different kind of selection dilemma, with six of his starting players, including his entire first-choice back four, sitting on yellow cards going into the match. Antic would surely rather take his chances against a Group C opponent in the second round than risk resting players and crashing out.
He wouldn't reveal his team but hinted it would be similar to the one that upset Germany 1-0, and confidently predicted what Verbeek would do with his selections.
"I have tried to have a balance in my team and I think in the previous game against Germany I was right in this approach," Antic said. "I always deal with ourselves, not the opposing team. I want a collective team.
"Australia has a lot of potential and I can expect how they will play. Tim Cahill and maybe Josh Kennedy will be in the starting 11, but it's their decision. Australia has a very great spirit. I am sure Australia will be fighting with a great motivation. Australia has a solid team, very stable, and I expect them not to change the way they play."