In June this year the Australian World Cup soccer team arrives in Hamburg, West Germany, to train for its final round of games.
In June this year the Australian World Cup soccer team arrives in Hamburg, West Germany, to train for its final round of games. The Australian team faces three top teams in the international league - West Germany, Chile, and East Germany - and its chances of getting into the World Cup finals are slim.
Faint as their hopes may be, Hamburg 1974 is a long way from the obscurity the Australian team faced in 1965, when they played their first World Cup elimination game against North Korea.
The speedy climb into the top league by the Australians has been supervised, and largely manipulated, by team coach Role Rasic - a Yugoslav who emigrated to Australia as a young man.
Rasic is the antithesis of the top-flight World Cup Managers. He is an apolitical man, who moulds his team while running a sports store near Sydney.
His Yugoslav background is well suited to a World Cup tussle. This year's competition boasts another successfull Yugoslav coach, Vidinic, who has pulled Zaire into the top tank, and who, in 1970, took Morocco into the World Cup final. Yugoslavia has also qualified in this year's competition.
Rasic knows the Australians will be fighting with their backs against the wall in the finals, and has abandoned even a pretence of attacking football. He is drilling his team in tough, self-disciplined defensive methods -- employing four fullbacks and five midfielders.
Four weeks ago the Australians' prospects were dimmed when Ray Baartz - regarded as one of the best Australian footballers - was partially paralysed as a result of a punch which felled him in a game against Uruguay. Australia beat Uruguay 2-0 in that game, but it looks as though Baartz will not be well enough to represent his country in Hamburg.
Rasic must find a substitute for Baartz - and preferably one with the dual skills of tenacious defence and outstanding goal-scoring ability. He will be taking a 22-man squad to Hamburg, and Baartz may be going along as a non-playing member. Rasic says he will use warm-up matches in Israel, Indonesia and Switzerland to give his reserves match practice.
Most of this effects are concentrated on getting the team into shape ??? their depature at the end of May, and Rasic is searing for the ideal combination to face the big teams in West Germany.