Australian full call-up for Luke - 15/10/2004
The significance of last nightís win over the Solomon Islands should not be underestimated by any Australian soccer fan. Australian v Solomon Islands doesnít exactly conjour up the same feelings, as say, what Australia v England did in February 2003, but its significance to Australian football is probably triple that of that famous night at Upton Park. Yes, beating England 3-1 was one of the best nightís Australian soccer fan have enjoyed, but at the end of the day, it was only a friendly and its only significance was that we beat them. However beating the Solomons has far bigger implications for Australian football, as we try to end our 32-year exile from the World Cup.
To many the 11-1 aggregate OFC Nations Cup Final victory over the Solomons only further reinforced the gulf that exists between Australia and the rest of the countries within the Oceania region, and unfortunately that even includes New Zealand, who surprisingly failed to make the final. However what is significant is what the victory means for our preparation in the lead up to the Oceania World Cup qualifiers next year again against the Solomon Islands, and then the World Cup qualifier against the 5th place South American qualifier (dependant on beating the Solomons).
"I think qualification was vital in terms of where we want to go," said coach Frank Farina, the day after successfully negotiating qualification for the Confederations Cup next year in Germany. "Itís going to give us quality games in a very good tournament." For Australia, it will provide at least three tough games and hopefully five, in a tournament format, which is actually the closest thing to a World Cup that Australia can currently experience and as such these games will be like World Cup qualifiers. "As we saw last time (we qualified) prior to Japan/Korea, itís a big tournament for us to get into, not only financially but I think in terms of competitiveness for the team. I know all the players are looking forward to it."
Australia was the last qualifier for the eight-team tournament and is the third time we have appeared in the Confederations Cup. Significantly, Australia has performed very well at its two previous tournaments, finishing runner-up to Brazil in 1997 and then third in Japan/Korea. In those tournaments, Australia recorded some memorable results against the best nations in the world and only enhanced the countryís football pedigree around the world. With teams such as Euro 2004 champions Greece, World and Copa America champions Brazil, Argentina, Tunisia, Japan, Mexico and host Germany, Australia will get quality matches at roughly the right time in its preparation. With both Brazil and Argentina, Farina would love to be able to play both at the tournament, especially given we will be playing a South American team to make the World Cup. "I doubt whether both teams will be in the same group, so it will give us at least one game and possibly two if we get through the first phase. "I also doubt we will be meeting either of those two in the World Cup qualifying games (they sit first and second on qualifying table by a fair margin), but it will pleasing to meet one of them at least."
Making the Confederations Cup was not the only significant thing to come out of the two matches, with Farina handing two players Luke Wilkshire and Jon McKain their senior debuts, while fellow Olympic team member Ahmed Elrich continues to go from strength to strength on the international stage. All three emphasise the depth coming through and Farina believes there is more to follow. Asked about Wilkshireís performance, Farina said "he performed exceptionally well for us, as he did at the Olympic Games as well." "Again itís players taking opportunities and young Luke has done well and he is progressing in the way I would like to see him progress. He has now made his full international debut, did very well and hopefully thatís the first of many international appearances for the national team."
Elrich performances as an attacking winger and goalscorer is earning him rave reviews and Farina didnít disagree with the assessment that he is the most improved player in the squad. "Without a doubt and deservedly so, heís been playing exceptionally well," Farina replied. "He played very well at the Olympic Games, and I think he definitely feels comfortable in this environment. Heís got international experience at all levels and I would expect Ahmad to keep improving."
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