The hope expressed by Australia's Dutch coach Pim Verbeek to "do better than last time" at the World Cup was already looking optimistic when the draw was made and has taken on a note of Panglossian optimism given the way Group D is panning out.
The Socceroos were quickly brought back to earth by a 4-0 defeat to Germany in their opening game, when Tim Cahill was sent off, and following Serbia's win yesterday they are the only side without a point.
Victory against Ghana in Rustenburg this afternoon is therefore essential but will be difficult to achieve. Cahill, although relieved to be suspended for only one game, will be missing and so will the Blackburn midfielder Vince Grella, who is injured and will have to wait for his 50th international cap. Australia appear particularly short in attack, Cahill having had to take the one striker's role against the Germans, which did not suit him.
There will almost certainly be changes too in defence, where Scott Chipperfield admits his place in jeopardy. He said of the Germany game: "Sometimes I had two or three players coming at me. It made me look bad but there are times when there is not much you can do." Fellow defenders almost certainly shared the feeling, although Lucas Neill, the right-back and captain, is attempting to keep spirits up with a promise of an improved performance.
Doing better than 2006, however, looks highly unlikely. On that occasion Neill's team came second in their group, ahead of Croatia and Japan and were unlucky to lose in the first knockout round to Italy, who were awarded a dubious penalty in the final minute. The squad is much the same this time, but four years older and lacking Mark Viduka's scoring potential. Harry Kewell, now of Galatasaray, is still around, and still facing accusations of lacking commitment from the media, one of whose (absent) members he wanted to confront at his press conference this week.
What to watch out for: More shocks?
Having been beaten so badly last Sunday, the Australians needed Serbia and Ghana to lose to Germany as well, only to watch the Serbs pull off a surprise yesterday before they went out to train in the Royal Bafokeng stadium.
Ghana's overall prospects were hampered by the injury to Chelsea's Michael Essien, their midfield driving force and their captain John Mensah of Sunderland was injured in training last night. England will be watching events in this group with interest but after yesterday's result anything could happen; except, almost certainly, Australia winning it.Reuse content