Friday, May 12, 2006

Few Surprises As Hiddink Names His 23

Few Surprises As Hiddink Names His 23.
Defenders Ljubo Milicevic and Michael Thwaite, flying winger Ahmad Elrich and striker Joel Griffiths were among the casualties as Socceroos coach Guus Hiddink announced his 23-man World Cup squad for Germany.

The trio will certainly be disappointed to miss out the grandest football occasion for 32 years with perhaps Milicevic the most unfortunate after a decent season with Basel in Switzerland. In contrast, Elrich would have been the least surprised when assistant coach Graham Arnold called on the eve of the announcement to tell him he had missed the cut. The Fulham star, 25 later this month, has hardly featured in his maiden Premiership campaign.

“We had to think – Graham Arnold, Johan Neeskens and me - about the two or three positions which were still open until the last date," Hiddink said in a pre-recorded message at the launch at Sydney airport. “It was not a guarantee - which I told the players in Holland when we started preparing before the Uruguay games - that it is a fixed selection. (And) in the end we managed to bring in some young players for the number 20-23 positions.”

The beneficiaries of the coaching staff's policy to look to the future for the peripheral squad places were Hyundai A-League defenders Michael Beauchamp and Mark Milligan as well as the unheralded Dinamo Dresden striker Josh Kennedy, while Basel attacking midfielder Mile Sterjovski was favoured over Elrich for the final midfield position.

Milligan, the uncapped Sydney FC full-back, was called up as an eleventh-hour replacement for veteran Tony Vidmar after routine medical tests following a stint on the sidelines with broken ribs revealed an irregular heart rhythm. The diagnosis was a bitter blow for the third most capped Socceroo behind Alex Tobin (87 caps) and Paul Wade (84). Vidmar deserved his spot at Germany more than most after being involved in four World Cup campaigns.

Beauchamp's call-up had been on the cards despite a lack of action since the A-League grand final in early March. The Central Coast Mariners stopper showed poise at the heart of an inexperienced backline in the Asian Cup qualifying victory in Bahrain, a showing which has subsequently resulted in an offer from Bundesliga outfit Nuremberg. It is a credit to the professionalism of the new domestic set-up that three players who played a significant part of the league (including Archie Thompson) will be on the plane to Germany.

Kennedy, the giant striker who has crept into the thoughts of Arnold over recent months, will be Beauchamp's club-mate at Nuremberg next season. After a prolific season with German second-tier club Dinamo Dresden, the 194cm targetman has accepted a move into the top-flight. His first-ever call-up to the national scene is the icing on the cake after leaving Australia as a 17-year-old. Meanwhile, Sterjovski earned a timely recall after being ignored by Hiddink for the World Cup qualifiers last year.

The only other talking points were the inclusions of injured first-teamers Mark Schwarzer and Tim Cahill. Both were named and are expected to be fit to face Japan on June 12. The question of who would skipper the Socceroos in their first finals appearance for 32 years will be decided before the warm-up match with Greece on May 25. Mark Viduka is expected to retain the captain's armband despite the return of fit-again ex-skipper Craig Moore.

"I was a little bit frightened when I heard from our medical staff (regarding injured players) the announcement about several players who are playing in England," Hiddink admitted. "But at the eleventh-hour I received some messages to say they were not fully 100 percent but OK, and so I don’t have many concerns at the moment.”

Australian World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Mark Schwarzer (Middlesbrough), Zeljko Kalac (AC Milan), Ante Covic (Hammarby),

Defenders: Michael Beauchamp (Central Coast Mariners), Stan Lazaridis (free agent), Craig Moore (Newcastle United), Lucas Neill (Blackburn Rovers), Tony Popovic (Crystal Palace), Mark Milligan (Sydney FC)

Midfielders: Marco Bresciano (Parma), Tim Cahill (Everton), Scott Chipperfield (Basel), Jason Culina (PSV Eindhoven), Brett Emerton (Blackburn Rovers), Vince Grella (Parma), Josip Skoko (Stoke City on loan from Wigan Athletic), Mile Sterjovski (Basel), Luke Wilkshire (Bristol City)

Strikers: John Aloisi (Alaves), Harry Kewell (Liverpool), Archie Thompson (PSV Eindhoven on loan from Melbourne Victory), Mark Viduka (Middlesbrough), Josh Kennedy (Dinamo Dresden)

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