Australia have sent a statement of intent to the rest to the football world ahead of the 2010 World Cup after Tim Cahill’s brace ensured top spot in their group, coach Pim Verbeek said.
The irrepressible Everton midfielder scored two second-half goals as Australia came from behind to beat Japan 2-1 and finish five points clear of their opponents.
Cahill now has an impressive 16 goals in 33 internationals and was the toast of Australian football on Thursday amid talk of emulating or even bettering the Socceroos’ second round performance at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
“Winning is a great statement to the rest of Asia and probably the rest of the world that we can finish a long campaign like this five points ahead,” Verbeek said.
“We didn’t lose a game, we conceded one goal. I think it’s fantastic.
“Our players will try everything they can to do better than at the last World Cup. That will be difficult, but that’s the target.”
Verbeek led the praise for the team’s “lucky charm” Cahill, 29, whose two late goals also sunk Japan in Australia’s 3-1 win in their first match at the 2006 World Cup in Kaiserslautern.
“Timmy is a great player. His first goal was great. It’s fantastic to have a player like him in your team, you know he can always do what he has to do and that’s scoring goals,” he said.
Cahill brushed past the media after Wednesday’s match, seemingly annoyed with last weekend’s headlines alleging a late night drinking spree, a story which was later dismissed as unfounded by Football Federation Australia.
But the morning after Cahill appeared on television and said: “The one thing I do do is let my football do the talking.
“And hopefully last night I justified that I always stay at the top of my game and I justified the fact that I love playing for my country.”
Skipper Lucas Neill said Cahill epitomised the Socceroos’ fighting spirit.
“Timmy came up with an absolute fantastic header and then he defined what he’s all about – the ‘old Timmy two-yard tap-in.’ What a great finish to the game for him, a great campaign for him,” Neill said.
Central defender Neill, who was devastated when he gave away a last-minute penalty that enabled eventual champions Italy to knock Australia out of the last World Cup, said his team would benefit from the experience of playing in the German showpiece.
Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who conceded his first goal in eight qualifiers against Japan, said Cahill would be vital for Australia at the World Cup in South Africa.
“He’s a top-class player. He does it for Everton, He does for Australia,” he said. “A fit Timmy Cahill is very vital to our preparation for the World Cup.”
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