What are the expectations for the team?
Most informed observers would be pleasantly surprised if they got out of a tough group. But there are a lot of uninformed observers who will expect more. Other than Mark Viduka, the likely first-choice team will be all but identical to the 2006 version, which suggests either they are a truly golden generation or the talent well has run dry. More likely the latter.
Is the coach popular?
With the players, yes, with the public and media, not so much. Pim Verbeek has mostly played the role of blunt Dutchman to perfection, scattering rude remarks about the domestic league and dismissing critics of his team’s grinding style by pointing to their results. There’s not much goodwill to draw on if things go badly, but since he is off to Morocco after the tournament he is unlikely to be too bothered by that.
Are there any players with unusual hobbies or business interests?
Lucas Neill, who also has interests in horse racing and property, was thrust into the headlines last year over his (tenuous) links to a crooked businessman who was shot dead in a Sydney street. There was no suggestion Neill had done anything wrong, but it probably counts as “unusual”.
Who are the best and worst interviewees?
Hard to say, since most of the squad toil in relative obscurity in Japan, Holland, Russia, Turkey and other far-flung locations. It’s been a while since we’ve heard from them.
Is the team likely to have any unusual goal celebrations?
Apparently Middlesbrough striker Scott McDonald has got something really exciting lined up, but after his first 15 games for the national team we’re still waiting to see it. The world may be weary of Tim Cahill’s flag-punching, but if he doesn’t score it’s hard to see who will.
Have the team recorded a song for the World Cup?
A classy project called “Give your heart to the Qantas Socceroos” was launched for the official song. Fans were invited to Westfield shopping centres (founded and run by the Australian FA chairman Frank Lowy) to have their heartbeat recorded. Up to 100 were used to “create the beat” for the song, by woeful pop combo Rogue Traders. The names of everyone who lays down their funky heart rhythm is to be presented to the team in South Africa in a “commemorative book”. Check it out on Ebay in July.
What will the media coverage be like?
Huge in all quarters as long as Australia stay in the tournament, even though many games will be on in the middle of the night. TV rights remain with the free-to-air SBS, though its once-pioneering coverage is starting to look a little stale under the increasingly forgetful veteran presenter Les Murray. Thankfully the permanently grinning Mark Bosnich is tied to a station without rights, leaving the urbane former Crystal Palace defender Craig Foster to dominate coverage. Any football that does not match his exacting aesthetic standards will be shown no mercy, especially if it belongs to England.
Will many fans be travelling to South Africa?
Australians have been among the most enthusiastic ticket-buyers, though numbers will surely be down on Germany. Four years of practice in the A‑League have not improved the originality of the songs. Mike Ticher