Oar, who has recently joined Holland’s FC Utrecht from Australia’s Brisbane Roar is regarded as one of the hottest properties to come out of the island in many years. A left-sided midfielder, Oar made just 26 appearances for Brisbane, scoring twice – including a match-winning 91st minute free-kick in just his second appearance. With just one international cap to his name – won in March of this year – Oar had been considered an outsider to make the Socceroos squad but his inclusion in Verbeek’s early draft shortens those odds considerably and adds weight to the belief Oar could be Australia’s most talented player since Harry Kewell was at his not-inconsiderable pomp. Indeed, the Brisbane Times wrote in December 2009 “The likeness is too striking to ignore. When Tommy Oar, Brisbane Roar winger, has the ball under foot, skinning opponents with consummate ease, he looks a dead ringer for a young Harry Kewell near the height of his powers in the [English] Premier League.” The comparisons may not be particularly helpful, but they are inevitable. Speaking after Oar made his Australia bow against Indonesia, Verbeek was at pains to both praise the new cap and, at the same time, dampen the frenzy. He said: “I would like to keep the pressure down on Tommy but I have to be honest and say he played a fantastic game tonight. But we have to keep the lid on expectation. He is just 18 years old and we should not try to mention him as the next Harry Kewell.” Sadly for Verbeek – and perhaps the player too – that is easier said than done.
As mentioned, the experienced former PSV Eindhoven player Culina is the only outfield player from the domestic competition included in Verbeek’s preliminary party, which has prompted the international retirement of ex-Derby County midfielder and current Perth Glory star Mile Sterjovski. Sterjovski, 30, has called time on a 10-year Socceroos career after 43 appearances and eight goals, with Verbeek preferring to call up the less experienced likes of Oar, Nick Carle of Crystal Palace and James Holland of Dutch side AZ Alkmaar to compete for midfield spots with the more established names of Tim Cahill, Mark Bresciano and Brett Emerton. Hull City’s Richard Garcia is also amongst the 31, despite the Tigers’ relegation from the Premier League, while Blackburn Rovers’ Vince Grella is included even with doubts over the combative midfielder’s fitness. It is a similar story for Harry Kewell, now of Galatasaray, who has been named in the initial squad despite concerns over the former Liverpool midfielder’s hamstring injury – which has dogged him all season. Coach Verbeek says he is not worried, however: “Harry is one of those players that can perform without any preparation. He can do something special during a game and that’s what I’m counting on. Harry’s a special class and I will pick Harry and take him into the World Cup even if he’s not fit yet.” It is true that Kewell is one of few Australia players capable of moments of magic that unlock even the tightest of defences, but no player is able to produce those special touches from the treatment table which is where the midfielder is liable to spend much of his time in South Africa.
After a breakthrough 2006 World Cup, when Australia reached the second round for the first time in their history, hopes are high for at least a repeat performance and to that end, 14 of the squad from four years ago have been retained. They include Culina, Cahill, Bresciano, Emerton, Grella, Kewell and forward Josh Kennedy, along with captain Lucas Neil, goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, defenders Michael Beauchamp, Mark Milligan, Luke Wilshere, Scott Chipperfield and Craig Moore, who has been picked despite recently having his contract with Greek side AO Kavala terminated for what was described only as ‘an off-the-field incident.’ Verbeek is likely to keep faith with all 14 of these players as he turns to a blend of youth and experience to match Australia’s lofty ambitions.
Provisional 30-man Australia squad
Adam Federici (Reading)
Eugene Galekovic (Adelaide United)
Brad Jones (Middlesbrough)
Mark Schwarzer (Fulham)
Michael Beauchamp (Al-Jazira Club)
David Carney (FC Twente)
Scott Chipperfield (FC Basel)
Shane Lowry (Aston Villa)
Mark Milligan (JEF United)
Craig Moore (Unattached)
Lucas Neill (Galatasaray)
Jade North (Troms