The entire A-League has been handed a weekend's recess to allow the national team to concentrate on their World Cup qualifying visit to Uzbekistan on September 10, but it turns out only one side will actually be affected by national team coach Pim Verbeek's call-ups.
After finally being convinced to elongate the regular season to allow byes over FIFA-recognised match dates, Australian football authorities must now wonder why they bothered.
Indeed Gary van Egmond of the Newcastle Jets, the reigning A-League champions, will be the only coach pleased with how the build-up to the Socceroos' qualifier in Tashkent has played out.
In goalkeeper Ante Covic and defender Jade North, Newcastle provided the only two local league representatives in Verbeek's extended 27-man squad. The seven remaining sides were unaffected.
North, Newcastle's championship-winning captain, missed the recent friendly against South Africa in London because he was on duty as one of Graham Arnold's three overage players at the Olympics.
Covic, meanwhile, has been a regular backup for first choice No.1 Mark Schwarzer under Verbeek, although also missed the South African clash at Loftus Road.
Verbeek overlooked Melbourne's Archie Thompson, most probably because of the ankle injury he returned from the Olympic Games carrying. Thompson hasn't played in either one of the A-League's opening rounds during August.
Norway-based left-sided defender Shane Stefanutto won a recall but there was no place for Nicky Carle, the former Newcastle attacking midfielder who joined Crystal Palace from Bristol City during the northern summer.
Uncontracted Mark Milligan, the former Sydney FC midfielder, was also included.
Verbeek made it clear in a teleconference to Australian reporters on Wednesday night that he was preparing for the Tashkent tussle with his eyes wide open.
"Everyone is focusing on Japan as the big team in the group but I know Uzbekistan from before [when he was the South Korea national coach]. They were the first team to qualify for this round, so there is no reason to underestimate them," said the Dutchman.
Australia have scheduled a warm-up game against Holland after receiving a bye on match day one. Uzbekistan, meanwhile, face Qatar in Doha first up.
Verbeek feels the Uzbek challenge will be as close to playing a European side as Australia will find in the AFC. Despite earlier comments from senior players about their worrying lack of knowledge about the central Asians, the Socceroos coach calmed nerves by assuring he'd watched DVDs of their opponents on a number of occasions.
"For me there is not a big surprise," he said. "They play a Russian style of football - physically strong, skilful with good organisation and the fans will be very fanatic.
"It is an interesting challenge. It can help qualification if we can get a good result over there (but) it won't be easy."
In local news, Football Federation Australia have confirmed two new sides will expand the league to 10 teams from the 2009/10 season.
Gold Coast United and North Queensland FC will now have a year to ensure they've the resources to compete with the eight established clubs.
"Expansion of the A-League is a critical issue to the continuing evolution and growth of football and this is a very exciting day for the FFA, everyone involved in the A-League, Gold Coast United and North Queensland,” said FFA boss Ben Buckley
The A-League will continue plans to grow the competition to a 12-team competition in 2010/11. Fourteen teams is considered the saturation point.
Australia's 27-man squad
Michael Beauchamp (Aalborg), Mark Bresciano (Palermo), Jacob Burns (Unirea Valahorum), David Carney (Sheffield United), Scott Chipperfield (FC Basel), Chris Coyne (Colchester United), Ante Covic (Newcastle Jets), Jason Culina (PSV Eindhoven), Bruce Djite (Genclerbirligi), Brett Emerton (Blackburn Rovers), Richard Garcia (Hull City), Vince Grella (Blackburn Rovers), Brett Holman (AZ Alkmaar), Brad Jones (Middlesbrough), Josh Kennedy (Karlsruher), Harry Kewell (Galatasaray), Scott McDonald (Celtic), Mark Milligan (uncontracted), Lucas Neill (West Ham), Jade North (Newcastle Jets) Michael Petkovic (Sivasspor), Mark Schwarzer (Fulham), Matthew Spiranovic (FC Nurnberg), Shane Stefanutto (Lyn Oslo), Mile Sterjovski (Derby County), Carl Valeri (Grosseto), Luke Wilkshire (Dynamo Moscow)
Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com
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