Contender: Bailey Wright, front, in action for Preston North End. Photo: Getty Images
We love a World Cup bolter, so I'm putting my money on Bailey Wright, a 21-year-old left-sided central defender from Victoria's Mornington Peninsula who plays in the English third-tier and may come from the clouds to be on the plane to Brazil.
Wright is hoping to jump a division with Preston North End via the play-offs (he featured in the draw in the first leg against Rotherham on the weekend) but either way he's a virtual unknown in his home country, having left to chase his dream at the age of 16.
We'll know for sure whether Wright is made of the right stuff when Ange Postecoglou names his preliminary 30-man squad on Wednesday, but if not, how about Josh Brillante, a midfielder who has adapted so well to playing at right back for Newcastle Jets that the door has been pushed ajar? If he does make the cut, by my reckoning that would make Brillante the first player from Bundaberg to feature in the world's most important sporting competition – an achievement in itself.
Whatever the case, the sense of anticipation about who will, and who won't, be in Postecoglou's selection tells us that the countdown to the World Cup has finally begun. And while the Socceroos are a million-to-one to progress past the group stage – some of us would be happy just to see them score a goal – that hasn't dampened the prevailing enthusiasm. In a perverse way there is a lot more joy, and hope, and excitement, about this World Cup than the last one. Not because there is an expectation Australia will fare better, but because there is a plan, a strategy, a mission, about the national team that wasn't there under Pim Verbeek in South Africa. For that we can thank Postecoglou, and those who finally saw the light and employed him.
That doesn't mean Postecoglou gets a free ride in Brazil, of course. There is a body of opinion that he is about to get exposed for his daring, or what some see as his recklessness, as a strategist. The last friendly against Ecuador only provided more ammunition for those – among them plenty currently involved in the A-League – who argue Postecoglou needs to develop a pragmatic streak ahead of the matches against Chile, the Netherlands and Spain. Certainly three heavy defeats in Brazil would chip away at Postecoglou's aura, and ramp up the pressure ahead of the Asian Cup, the tournament which has finally provided the impetus for the long-needed changing of the guard.
Having changed that guard – Mark Schwarzer and Lucas Neill being the most notable casualties of the putsch – Postecoglou now needs those who will step into the breach to respond. Fitness will be critical – and the players should expect a punishing boot camp starting in Tuggerah this week – but so will a team culture which will hopefully will draw the best out of the available talent. Brave selections – like Wright, or Brillante, or the picking up to a dozen other players from the A-League – are an enormous show of faith from a coach who has never been fussed by reputations. In return we can hope that a collection of players largely lacking in fanfare will rise to the challenge. I sense they will.
What we all see as the measurement of a successful World Cup will vary, but for the first time since Guus Hiddink the national team has the public, and the media, on side. That should give the national team the breathing space to grow into the tournament, and for individual players to grow with it. We have an Australian coach in charge of an Australian team which will act, and play, like an Australian team should. It's been a long time since we've been able to say that.