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Sunday, May 9, 2010

J. League's Australians keeping fingers crossed for World Cup callup

Staff writer

National team manager Takeshi Okada will end months of speculation when he names his World Cup squad on Monday, but for some J. League players hoping to make it to South Africa the wait must go on for one more day.

News photo
Home and away: Nagoya striker Josh Kennedy is hoping to make an impact for Australia at the World Cup. KYODO PHOTO

Australia manager Pim Verbeek is set to announce his 27-man provisional roster on Tuesday, and the news will be keenly anticipated by the Socceroo contingent currently plying its trade in Japan.

After appearing in eight of Australia's 13 qualifiers en route to the World Cup, Nagoya Grampus striker Josh Kennedy has reason to be confident of making the cut. With Germany, Serbia and Ghana lying in wait, however, the 194-cm frontman knows he and his teammates can take nothing for granted if they want to emulate their achievement of reaching the knockout stage four years ago.

"I assume that I'll be in the 27-man squad and then we'll take it from there," Kennedy said after Nagoya's 2-1 loss to Urawa Reds earlier this week. "We've got a lot of work to do before it starts. That's why we've got three friendlies beforehand and a few good weeks of camp. So if we go into each game and give it our best, I definitely think we've got the ability to get past the group stage and take it from there."

Australia breezed through its first qualifying program as part of the Asian confederation, going through the final round unbeaten and conceding only one goal while taking four points from two encounters with Japan. The first-round opposition in South Africa will certainly pose a far sterner test for Verbeek's side, but Kennedy accepts that comes with the territory of playing at the highest level.

"All the groups are difficult," he said. "I don't think it would have mattered if we had been in the first group or the last group. It's the World Cup — it doesn't matter who you play."

But while Kennedy's place in the squad appears secure, others must wait and see. JEF United Chiba's Mark Milligan and Shimizu S-Pulse defender Eddy Bosnar are in contention, while Urawa's Matthew Spiranovic is also in with a chance.

Spiranovic joined Reds on loan from German club Nurnberg at the start of the year, and arrived with a reputation as one of Australia's most promising young players after impressing in the Bundesliga until injury checked his momentum.

The 21-year-old has found opportunities hard to come by in Saitama, however, and admits he may have run out of time to convince Verbeek he is worth his place in South Africa.

"I haven't given up hope," he said. "In football anything's possible, so I'm staying hopeful and we'll see what happens this week."

Even if Spiranovic misses out, he is confident the all-or-nothing approach that drove Australia to a remarkable 3-1 comeback win over Japan in Kaiserslautern four years ago can bring more success for the Socceroos this time round.

"It's a very difficult group," he said. "There are some world-class sides in there but as we saw in the last World Cup, anything's possible. Anything can happen on the day and we'll be going into the games as underdogs. But we've got that fighting spirit and I think we like being the underdogs. It will be very interesting and I'm sure we'll be ready."

Verbeek's squad will draw heavily on Europe-based personnel, with stalwarts such as Galatasaray's Harry Kewell and Everton's Tim Cahill again expected to lead the charge. With the J. League proving to be something of a fertile ground for Socceroos in recent years, however, Spiranovic believes others may follow his path.

"When I was playing overseas you don't get a lot of coverage of the J. League, and I think the time difference doesn't help," he said. "But there's no doubt that the J. League has got a very good reputation and there are a lot of players who want to come here and play here."

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