Football: Kewell may earn start for Socceroos

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The Independent Online
Terry Venables is set to give the exciting young Leeds United striker Harry Kewell the responsibility for firing Australia to the World Cup finals.

The 19-year-old is likely to link up with Mark Viduka in the Socceroos' attack when they take on Iran in the first leg of their qualifying play- off in the intimidating atmosphere of Tehran today.

It would be a World Cup debut for Kewell, who has been capped three times, but Venables, Australia's coach, has no doubts about his ability.

Kewell previously played for the international side as a wing-back but prefers to play up front. The consensus is that Kewell will replace Graham Arnold to play alongside Viduka against Iran. "He sees himself as that kind of player. He's a young boy so you don't want to complicate the issue by making things different," Venables said.

"Everyone is up for it. We'll be delighted with any result so we can go back to Melbourne with the smell of it up our noses." The second leg is on 29 November - the winners qualify for the finals in France.

Australia's captain, Alex Tobin, added: "We're under no illusions that we must deal with a pressure situation, but we're more excited than intimidated. A lot of our players thrive on the big-match atmosphere."

The team flew into Iran yesterday from Dubai - but only because Venables wanted to have one training session at the match venue before the floodlights were switched on.

The West Ham winger Stan Lazaridis has declared himself available for selection after completing his first full training session just before the team departed from Dubai.

When the Socceroos arrived in Tehran they were all smiles and compliments, following a week of charges and counter-charges about Iranian fans, food and water.

"We have received an excellent reception, and everything has been marvellous," Australia's ambassador to Iran, Stuart Hume, said after welcoming the team at the airport. "Even if our team doesn't win here, it won't be because of a lack of hospitality or any such problems."

Hume's remarks seemed to be aimed at downplaying comments by the Australian Football Federation's chairman, David Hill, about conditions in Iran, which stirred a minor diplomatic row with Iran last week and angered Fifa, world football's ruling body.

Hill had said he feared for the safety and health of his players because of rowdy spectators, contaminated water, bad food and the tensions between neighboring Iraq and the United States. But on Thursday in Dubai, where the Socceroos trained all week, Hill said his players were looking forward to today's match.

Hill said his comments about conditions in Iran were based on information provided by the Australian Foreign Ministry. "The logistical nightmare we spoke about was not a concern of Iran. We had to get our coaches and players from different countries at such a short notice," he added.

Today's match in Tehran is being televised live by Eurosport (noon BST kick-off).

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