Australia Camp Focus – Strachan under-fire from Verbeek over Williams’ injury omission

Australia’s 23-man World Cup squad was only announced publicly after the June 1 deadline and the controversy did not stop there. The absence of Middlesbrough defender Rhys Williams, through injury, was blamed on Boro boss Gordon Strachan, with Socceroos Coach Pim Verbeek singling out the ex-Celtic boss by name.

While there was no case to answer for the late announcement of the final party, since the group was revealed to FIFA in time, Australia’s Dutch Coach clearly felt his Middlesbrough counterpart had to shoulder the blame for the loss of Williams. Verbeek said: “Gordon Strachan let him play for weeks with an injury. He let him play with an injection every game. If you do that with a 20-year-old player you take a risk.” Verbeek is certainly correct in one respect – that painkilling injections are dicey business – and Williams, who suffered with a pelvis injury throughout last season, may regret the measures in time if playing with the injury causes any long term damage, as in the case of former Liverpool defender Tommy Smith, who underwent a succession of knee operations after his playing days were over to correct the damage caused by playing through the pain barrier. That was a different era, however, and the advances in medical science since Smith’s 1970s peak make Williams’ course of injections much less dangerous, but, according to his international Coach, they have at least cost him his World Cup place.

Middlesbrough were quick to reject Verbeek’s condemnation, saying: “We were always conscious of the World Cup and the fact that Rhys would want to be involved. We gave him every opportunity to recover from his injury in mid-season. After that, each time Rhys played it was because he himself was happy to play. Mr Verbeek told us he was happy with the player’s performances for the club and the Australia physio guaranteed Rhys would be fit for their first game.” This slightly undignified slanging match aside, it is impossible to say for certain whether the player would have been fit or not had a different course of action been taken. While it was clearly in Middlesbrough’s interests and not Australia’s for Williams to undergo the injections, Verbeek cannot reasonably expect a player’s club to put what is best for the national team ahead of the interests of the club, especially when the injury occurred in early January, a full six months before the World Cup.

For his part, Williams was contemplative over his omission, saying: “I have been struggling for a long time, but the (Socceroos) coaching staff gave me every possible chance to be fit. It obviously just wasn’t meant to be. I’m looking forward to working out a plan with the physios and looking to the future.” At 21, Williams’ future can definitely include another World Cup in four years time, and, given the former Wales U-21 international was far from guaranteed a place in Verbeek’s starting XI this time around, the 2014 tournament may be a greater opportunity for Williams’ on the world stage. By the time the World Cup circus moves to Brazil, the likes of Scott Chipperfield and Craig Moore, both 34, will have long retired from the international scene and current captain Lucas Neil, now 32, will not be far behind. Places in the Socceroos’ defence will be up for grabs in the qualifying for Brazil 2014, if not sooner, and Williams, if he continues his progression at domestic level, will be one of the main contenders for a spot in a new look Aussie back line.

Aside from the furore over Williams’ injury, the Australia squad, eventually revealed by Verbeek, contained no surprises. Joining Williams in exclusion are, as anticipated, youngsters Shane Lowry, Tommy Oar, James Holland and Eugene Galekovic, with versatile 23-year-old Dario Vidosic the man handed a reprieve in Williams’ absence. While Williams returns to England, the other four dropped from the preliminary squad will remain in South Africa to experience life at a senior international tournament, and, as four of the hottest Australian prospects in the game, are sure to feature in future World Cup squads. With 14 members of the 23 who travelled to Germany in 2006 retained, this is an Australian squad with vast tournament know-how, and, indeed, the starting line-up for Australia’s opening game against Germany could be made up of veterans of four years ago. Gone, however, is the exuberance of a first World Cup appearance in a generation Germany 2006 brought, largely down to the differing personalities of the genial Guus Hiddink, who led the nation four years ago, and Pim Verbeek, who, as Gordon Strachan has recently discovered, will take no prisoners.

Australia World Cup Squad

Goalkeepers

Mark Schwarzer (Fulham)
Adam Federici (Reading)
Brad Jones (Middlesbrough)

Defenders

Lucas Neill (Galatasaray)
Craig Moore (unattached)
Scott Chipperfield (Basel)
David Carney (Twente Enschede)
Luke Wilkshire (Dynamo Moscow)
Mark Milligan (JEF United)
Michael Beauchamp (Al-Jazira)

Midfielders

Tim Cahill (Everton)
Mark Bresciano (Palermo)
Vince Grella (Blackburn Rovers)
Brett Emerton (Blackburn Rovers)
Jason Culina (Gold Coast)
Brett Holman (AZ Alkmaar)
Carl Valeri (Sassuolo)
Mile Jedinak (Antalyaspor)
Richard Garcia (Hull City)
Dario Vidosic (Nuremberg)

Forwards

Harry Kewell (Galatasaray)
Josh Kennedy (Nagoya)
Nikita Rukavytsya (Twente Enschede)

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