Ready for action: Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak and teammates warm up in Salvador. Photo: Getty Images
Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak claims he is over an ankle injury that threatened to derail his World Cup campaign and is ready to prove he is back to full fitness.
Jedinak has been at near-full training during the past few days and has started in training matches in his preferred defensive midfield position alongside Mark Milligan.
The 29-year old has been pencilled in to play against Croatia in a warm-up friendly in Salvador on Saturday morning [AEST] in what will be his first match as the permanent captain, having previously held the armband against Ecuador on an interim basis in March.
“I’ve had a few training sessions on the paddock with the boys and it’s been great to get back amongst it,” he said prior to the Socceroos’ only training session at the match venue, the Estadio Pituacu. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow [against Croatia] but also ahead to the coming days."
Asked if he'd been able to go “flat out” in training, Jedinak said he wasn't far off top speed.
“I think there’s no other way to go about it. I can see the boys working hard and I try to lead by example. That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “I’ve been going as hard as I can over the last couple of weeks.”
When pressed by the media about whether he could play 90 minutes, Jedinak replied: “You’ll have to ask the boss”.
“I’m happy to play the part I have to for as long as I have to. That’s what I’m here to do. I feel pretty good,” he said. “I’ve worked pretty hard in the sessions I’ve been doing with the group. I’ve been working hard behind the scenes with the medical staff and our strength and conditioning coach. I feel like I’m good nick.”
While few will be expecting Australia to defeat an ambitious and experienced nation like Croatia, Jedinak appreciates the need for a strong display.
“I think it’s going to be [very important]. We know the importance of the game in terms of our preparation, so we need to put in a good performance,” he said. “People might mention inexperience and the young nature of our squad but I think it’s just with everybody. We all want to put our best foot forward and I’m sure that’s the message that’s going to come across.”
Jedinak admits he hasn’t spent “the greatest amount of time to be thinking about” playing against the nation of his heritage but realises the significance of the occasion.
“When you do mention it like that, it’s where my parents both come from, so it’s special in that sense,” he said. “But I’m walking out with my team, Australia, and for that reason it’s even more special.”
Having the lineage and experience of playing Croatia gives Jedinak a better insight than most into the Vatreni – and how they might compare to what Australia is due to face in the World Cup.
“Well they are European and we’ve got a couple of European teams [The Netherlands and Spain] in our group,” he said. “We’ll be playing against some of top, top players in the world when you look at some of the clubs that they’re playing at. It’s going to be a difficult game but a challenge that we need and one we’re all looking forward to.”
Earlier this week the Socceroos squad was cut by four to the final 23 and Jedinak said it had been a tough moment to swallow for the unlucky quartet – Tom Rogic, Josh Kennedy, Luke Wilkshire and Mark Birightti.
“I got to speak to a few of them but it’s difficult under the circumstances,” he said. “You never want to see anybody, especially the guys you have a history with and know a bit more about than some others. But those decisions have to be made ultimately and we all have their blessings. The boys wished us well and they were great through the whole journey with us.”