Australia is set to make its long-awaited return to World Cup play when it takes on Japan in its opening Group F match in Kaiserslautern on Monday. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer is in Germany covering footballs premiere event and has more.
Australia has played in the World Cup only one time previously, and that was in 1974 when the tournament was held in the former West Germany.
Australia is in the Oceania zone for World Cup qualifying play, a region of the world that includes no football powers and no automatic berth in the quadrennial tournament.
For the last several World Cups, the top team in Oceania has been forced to have a two-game home and away playoff against a country from another zone. Australia has been that top team and defeated Uruguay to earn its berth to this World Cup in Germany.
Alex Brown is a sports reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald. He is in Germany covering the Australian team and told VOA that qualifying was a great achievement.
"Its incredible in many senses because football is not really a big game," said Alex Brown. "Much like America, football [soccer] is not the game of Australia. There are rugby leagues, Australian rules football in the southern states and the game of cricket are the national sports. Football generally has not been, you know, an incredibly popular sport played by minority groups. But everybody's really excited for the first time I can remember, and football really has everyone talking."
Brown says Australia's team does have some good players with international experience.
"Harry Kewell is an obvious one from Liverpool," he said. "Mark Viduka at Middlesbrough, Marc Schwarzer is also at Middlesbrough. And then you've got a couple playing big time in Italy as well. Marco Bresciano, Zeljko Kalish [AC Milan]. So again these are top quality from top quality leagues. Defensively, that could be the area where Australia gets found out. Most of Australia's stars are up forward or in goal. So its a really interesting mix."
The Australian team is coached by Dutchman Guus Hiddink who guided co-host South Korea to the 2002 World Cup semifinals. Hell have a difficult challenge to equal that result, as Australia was drawn in a strong Group F that includes world champion Brazil, Croatia and Japan.
Football fan Aaron Mott traveled with friends here to Germany from Wollongong in New South Wales to watch the team and likes Australia's chances of getting out of the group by finishing first or second.
"Oh, I think well get to the second round, but if we have luck on the day well get further, so hopefully we can get to the quarterfinals, the semifinals, but I reckon we can make it to the second round."
Brewer: "You've got the confidence?"
Mott: "Oh, hey. Hey, Aussies have confidence mate."
Australia begins its 2006 World Cup campaign against Japan on Monday.