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Soccer-World-Australia face damage limitation exercise in Brazil

Reuters

By Nick Mulvenney

SYDNEY, June 5 (Reuters) - As the lowest-ranked team heading for Brazil, Australia's fourth trip to the World Cup was always going to be a challenge even before lady luck abandoned them in December's tournament draw.

World champions Spain and the Netherlands, who fought out the 2010 final, plus South American powerhouse Chile, presented the worst scenario for a nation with a newly-appointed coach and a squad in transition.

Australia's sporting culture is that their teams fight against the odds to the bitter end, but it is difficult to see the Socceroos coming back from Brazil with anything much better than humiliation avoided.

After scrapping through Asian qualifying under Holger Osieck, spiritless displays in successive 6-0 friendly defeats by Brazil and France led to the dismissal of the German last October.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) decided to go local for his replacement, handing Ange Postecoglou a five-year contract and a mission to make Australia the number one team in Asia.

Postecoglou had three friendlies - a 1-0 win over Costa Rica, a 4-3 loss to Ecuador and a 1-1 draw with South Africa - to assess the talent at his disposal in an international context before selecting his 23 players for Brazil.

He drew the net wide, keeping tabs on some 40 to 45 players.

They included the last remnants of Australia's "golden generation", a raft of youngsters plying their trade on the fringes of big clubs or in the lower leagues in Europe, and another group drawn from the improving domestic A-League.

Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, a veteran of two World Cups and 109 internationals, made at least one decision for the new coach by retiring on the eve of his first squad announcement.

Long-term team captain Lucas Neill was determined to play in a third successive finals but he got the dreaded omission phone call before the 30-man World Cup squad was selected, leaving Tim Cahill as the best-known veteran of the 2006 and 2010 campaigns.

Postecoglou handed Crystal Palace midfielder Mile Jedinak the captaincy, stuck by his promise to give youth a chance and hopes to produce a team playing in the attacking style which brought him success at domestic club level.

Whether he has time to produce a coherent team who can play any system with fluency before their Group B opener against Chile in Cuiaba on June 13 remains to be seen.

At the very least, though, Australia will expect a restoration of the fighting spirit that once defined the Socceroos and was wholly absent in last year's Brasilia and Paris humiliations. (Editing by John O'Brien and Patrick Johnston)

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