ON the panel of respected voices in Australian football, Harry Kewell has earned a gold-plated seat.
The former Socceroos spearhead helped see the plucky underdogs through to their most successful World Cup finish in 2006, a campaign ending in explosive fashion as Italy took a controversial win in the knockout stage in Germany.
A career plagued with injury forced what some consider to be Australia’s greatest ever football export into “nightmare” periods of uncertainty before retiring from the World Game in 2014.
With Australia’s daunting Saturday clash against the French looming, the 39-year-old Aussie icon shared same sage advice to the underdogs. A tough draw featuring France and Peru alongside the formidable Denmark has brought about dire predictions for the men from Down Under — but that’s never stopped them from turning heads overseas in campaigns past.
“If we look at this group we’ve been drawn — we feel as if we’ve gone back to 2006, the similarities are there,” Kewell told news.com.au.
“Is it a group I feel Australia can get out of? Yes. People ask if playing France is a good thing or a bad thing. It’s a positive thing because France will be nervous, but you don’t want them to get confident. France will try to go out and get the two wins and have no pressure but there are going to be nerves.”
Channel 10’s The Project host Waleed Aly came under fire for being too pessimistic about Australia’s chances in Russia and while Kewell remains mostly positive about snagging an upset, the Western Sydney product shares some hesitation.
“For us, we have to nick something in that game,” Kewell said. “We’re probably not meant to take anything from that game so there’s a little bit of freedom for us to go and express ourselves. After the France game it really kicks off because I think we have a real good chance against Denmark and then Peru.”
Kewell’s debut season as manager of Crawley Town was received well by the UK after becoming the first Aussie to coach an English football side.
When asked what he would tell the Australian team before kick-off against France, Kewell’s three-word piece of advice was simple.
“Don’t shy away,” he said. “Don’t be scared. Don’t look at the opposition and think, ‘Oh, yeah they’ve got some world-class players.’ The Australian squad is getting stronger. What I’d like to see is a bit of the old-school Australian teams when we had no fear and the confidence ourselves.”
KEWELL ON ‘DISAPPOINTING’ WALK-OUT
Australia was rocked upon hearing the news of coach Ange Postecoglou’s walk-out a little over six months before flying to Russia.
“It was a bit of a shock because you do all the hard work — and once it’s done it’s a moment you’d want to enjoy because the World Cup only comes around every four years,” Kewell said.
“As a manager or coach, to have two World Cups on your CV is a big tick, so it did come as a surprise. The players would have been shell-shocked, but they’re professionals. They know the job at hand and they knew there’d be another coach and they’d have to adapt.”
Kewell said Postecoglou’s shock resignation was “a little bit disappointing” but opened the door for the side to mature under new coach Bert van Marwijk.
HARRY REFLECTS ON CRIPPLING INJURY SAGA
In a World Cup lead-up column for the Advertiser, Kewell confirmed he never went into a World Cup 100 per cent fit. Despite suffering a disappointing run of injuries throughout his career — which he revealed often left him in a dark state of mind — Kewell has come to terms with his shaky relationship with his body.
Ongoing groin strains and a torn abductor muscle plagued his already stellar international career, meaning the former star had to tackle his footballing life at a different angle to most.
“Injuries happen, it’s just how you deal with them,” he said. “You can let them get to you and be put off by them. You can give up, you can walk away. But you’ve just got to separate all the negative stuff.
“I would have love to have been fully fit for a World Cup — unfortunately I didn’t — so my path had to change, I had to take a different approach to others and I got to my goal in the end. I got to participate and I still got to play, so I reached my target anyway.”
CAN ENEMIES BECOME FRIENDS?
After the haunting memories of the 2006 World Cup when Italy knocked the Socceroos out courtesy of a controversial penalty following a Lucas Neill foul, Kewell is hoping he can now count on the support of his former rivals.
Italy failed to qualify for this year’s tournament and Kewell is trying to convince former Italian star Andrea Pirlo to get behind the Aussies now he doesn’t have his own team to barrack for in Russia.
“It was great fun meeting Pirlo as he prepares to watch this summer’s football as a fan. I hope I’ve encouraged him to join the best fans in the world and back the Socceroos,” Kewell said.
“Andrea should take the opportunity to do something different this year and support an underdog, and there’s no better underdog than the Aussies. I fancy us to get past the group stages this year and anything can happen from there.”
Harry Kewell is celebrating the FIFA World Cup with Uber Eats and McDelivery. During Australia’s game against France on Saturday 16 June, Uber Eats is helping him support Australia from home with McDelivery right to his door.