socceroos spent force

SYDNEY - The Australian government hopes a good showing in South Africa will increase its chances of hosting the World Cup.

SYDNEY - The Australian government hopes a good showing in South Africa will increase its chances of hosting the World Cup.

But their die-hard soccer fans fear the nation's best chance of lifting the trophy has come and gone.

Four years ago in Germany the Socceroos gifted Italy a penalty late in a game that could have seen them make the last eight. It was only their second World Cup appearance and they seemed to have an outside chance of winning.

Fast forward to South Africa 2010 and Australia are without world-class coach Guus Hiddink. It's an unsettled side, with Hiddink's successor, fellow Dutchman Pim Verbeek, still experimenting with the line-up. Verbeek is a less inspiring leader than the maestro who took both Holland and South Korea to World Cup semifinals and anything short of matching the 2006 heroics will be seen as a failure for the Asian champions.

For an Australian public that expects to win, just being in the finals is not enough anymore. This time round there hasn't been the same excitement as there was when the Socceroos made it to Germany and lack of support may affect their game.

Former Socceroos captain Paul Wade despairs at the team's difficulty in finding the net. In 14 World Cup qualifying matches, Australia scored 19 goals, an average of 1,36 a game. This compares with England's 34 goals, Spain's 28 and Germany's 26 in their 10 qualifying matches. "You can't defend for 90 minutes at the World Cup," Wade said.

John Kosmina, another former Australian international, regrets that the team has come to rely on the brilliance of Everton captain Tim Cahill. The squad has members who play for clubs in Japan, China, Greece and Turkey, among others.

Dour Dutchman Verbeek took over as coach at the end of 2007 and has steered the team to its third World Cup appearance. He plays with one striker and his focus is on not conceding goals - a plan helped by the competence of Socceroos and Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.

The undisputed ace in the pack is midfielder Cahill. - Sapa-DPA

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