By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE, May 29 (Reuters) - Cutting long-serving Australia captain Lucas Neill adrift before the World Cup was the right call and his replacement Mile Jedinak is the best man to lead the team into a harrowing draw in Brazil, according to former Socceroos striker John Aloisi.
Crystal Palace skipper Jedinak's appointment last week was heavily backed after he was handed the captain's armband for a warmup against Ecuador in March but some local pundits complained that the country's most prolific scorer Tim Cahill was hard done by.
Twenty-nine-year-old midfielder Jedinak helped newly-promoted Palace exceeded expectations with an 11th placed finish in the Premier League and he could similarly inspire the 59th-ranked Socceroos to play above themselves against world champions Spain, Netherlands and Chile in Brazil, Aloisi said.
"I think Mile's the perfect one to take over," Aloisi told Reuters. "Anyone that can captain a Premier League side can certainly captain the Socceroos.
"He had a great year personally but also his team's done well."
The hard-tackling Jedinak, capped 43 times for Australia, played every minute of every game for the Tony Pulis-coached Palace until being struck down with a groin injury in their final match against Fulham.
He was rested for the Socceroos' tepid 1-1 draw in a warmup against South Africa on Monday, with Cahill taking the reins for the farewell match in Sydney, but is expected to be fit for the team's World Cup opener against Chile on June 13.
Compared to central defender Neill, who handled journalists with the same panache as he would a pesky striker streaming into the area, the more low-key Jedinak has largely let his football do the talking in his international career.
"Mile's an intelligent guy, he's different to Lucas," said 38-year-old Aloisi, who netted the decisive kick in a penalty shoot-out victory against Uruguay to put Australia into the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany.
"Every captain is different. I think Mile is more one that leads by example on the pitch. You can see that he's got a presence."
Unlike some of his more illustrious Socceroos team mates, like New York Red Bulls striker Cahill and the recently retired winger Harry Kewell, Sydney-born Jedinak spent much of his early career on home soil, rather than head to Europe as a dream-chasing teenager.
WILLING TO LEARN
Aloisi played with Jedinak at Central Coast Mariners, a successful but perennially cash-strapped club in Australia's top-flight A-League, where players ply their trade in the heat of summer and on rough pitches often shared with rugby teams.
"Mile's always been one that's willing to learn and work on his game," said Aloisi. "Even back then he was always asking questions and what he can do better about his position and working on his game after training, and on his passing.
"Knowing what he's like, he'll have been doing that the past six or seven years. He's kept on improving and you grow in confidence when you start to play well.
"When you start to play probably the best players going around in the Premier League, and you're not out of place, then the confidence grows even more, so that's got a lot to do with it."
A hard tackler and strong in the air, Jedinak's leadership skills will be put to the ultimate test as he strives to organise a rookie Socceroos' defence against the likes of David Silva and Robin van Persie in Brazil.
Up forward, Ange Postecoglou-coached Australia are likely to again rely on older hands in 34-year-old Cahill and seasoned Japan-based striker Josh Kennedy.
Aloisi conceded Australia would be vulnerable in central defence where Neill was a stalwart for over a decade, but the team had some bright prospects out wide that might trouble their Group B rivals.
"We've got some pace out wide," said Aloisi, listing Germany-based wingers Ben Halloran and Matthew Leckie, and Tommy Oar, who plays for FC Utrecht in the Dutch top flight.
"They're both lightning quick (and) Tommy Oar's probably the best crosser we've got.
"We'll be able to cause problems with that front three." (Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)
- Sports & Recreation
- Mile Jedinak
- John Aloisi
- Premier League
- Tim Cahill