Intensity: Tim Cahill, who will captain the Socceroos against South Africa, says the spirit in the squad reminds him of the 2006 World Cup. Photo: Getty Images
In what could be a glimmer of hope for the Socceroos to do the impossible in Brazil, Tim Cahill says he has not witnessed such intensity in the national team since the 2006 World Cup, such is the competition for places in the final 23-man squad
The injection of youthful enthusiasm, along with the insecurity lingering over positions in the final World Cup squad, has created a stark resemblance to the atmosphere within the camp eight years ago that achieved Australia's greatest result on the international football stage, Cahill says.
There may be fewer star players in the class of 2014, but Cahill says the environment is rivalled only by that under the guidance of Guus Hiddink in Germany, with the benefit of a long-term coach with an emphasis on the future of the team beyond Brazil.
"For me it feels the same when I went into the 2006 World Cup," Cahill said. "We had the biggest stars in Australia on a different level, with [Mark] Viduka, Harry Kewell, Lucas Neill, Spider [Zeljko Kalac], Schwarzy [Mark Schwarzer], Vinnie Grella, [Mark] Bresciano and Brett Emerton – I could name loads, and not one of us was safe. We were always reminded by a decision or a tactic, or the team; it's the same scenario now. The only way I can differentiate is we had a short-term manager, which was a quick fix, now we have a manager for the future."
Now 34 years old and captain for Monday night's farewell match against South Africa, Cahill says the new-look squad preparing for Australia's fourth foray onto the world stage has provided a much needed revitalisation for the older guard. The youthful composition of the Socceroos squad, featuring 10 players under the age of 23, are adopting the attacking style of play coach Ange Postecoglou is trying to implement in the team to such a degree that Cahill believes it will create a brave new culture within the national team.
"Those guys give us revitalisation as athletes because being 34 and some of them being 20, 21, you're always just reminding them about trying to do everything they can do in training properly," Cahill said. "Ange is encouraging getting the ball in awkward areas, getting to turn and play, playing forward. As long as you're trying it, if you're making mistakes it doesn't matter; we need players to be brave. When we play against these top teams in the world, if [we] kick the ball long, we're just going to be chasing it all day. For us it's the intent to basically be brave in ourselves."
Australia's all-time leading goalscorer spoke of the level of professionalism instilled by Postecoglou in the national team that he says has never been more meticulous.
"Ange is making sure that every single player knows that on and off the park you'll be watched and be assessed and from that, that's going to get you on the plane," Cahill said. "Training is really impressive because intensity is really high and at the same time the qualities, some of the best I've seen purely because no one really knows who's going to Brazil."