By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY, April 28 (Reuters) - As the lowest-ranked team heading for Brazil, Australia's fourth trip to the World Cup finals was always going to be a challenge even before lady luck abandoned them in December's tournament draw.
Spain and the Netherlands, who fought out the 2010 World Cup final, as well as 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 insists 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 their way through Asian qualifying under Holger Osieck, spiritless displays in successive 6-0 friendly defeats by Brazil and France led to the summary 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 just two friendlies - a 1-0 win over Costa Rica and 4-3 loss to Ecuador - to assess the talent at his disposal in an international context before selecting his initial squad for Brazil.
He has drawn the net wide, keeping tabs on some 40 to 45 players.
They include the last remnants of Australia's "golden generation", a raft of youngsters plying their trade on the fringes of big clubs or in 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.
Forward Tim Cahill and central defender Lucas Neill are determined to play in a third successive finals but the latter's form makes him by no means a certainty to make the trip.
Postecoglou has promised to give youth a chance and 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 Mike Collett)