Australian football chiefs were forced to deny Tuesday that veteran Tim Cahill was in the country’s World Cup squad for commercial reasons after in-form Hibernian striker Jamie Maclaren was axed.
The 38-year-old is the Socceroos’ most prolific scorer with 50 goals, hitting the net at three previous World Cups.
His record speaks for itself, but he has only been a bit player for Millwall since returning to south London in January.
Despite this, he made the cut as coach Bert van Marwijk trimmed his squad to 26 players from 32 Tuesday, with Maclaren’s omission the most controversial, having scored a hat-trick at the weekend for Hibs in their 5-5 draw with Rangers.
It leaves Cahill and Swiss-based Tomi Juric as the two recognised strikers in the squad, although the highly-rated and uncapped Daniel Arzani kept his place.
The announcement came as Cahill was unveiled as the face of the Socceroos’ key sponsor Caltex’s new advertising campaign.
It will see five of the company’s petrol stations in major cities rebadged Cahilltex throughout May and June, featuring large pictures of Australia’s best-known player.
Football Federation Australia chief David Gallop denied there was any commercial rationale behind Cahill seemingly certain to play a fourth World Cup.
– Track record –
“Absolutely not,” he told reporters at a Caltex promotional event. “Have a look at Tim Cahill’s track record. He’s a guy who has produced for the Socceroos and Australia so many times.
“He’s going to Turkey, he’s got a few weeks of intense training and he’ll be right up there (for final selection).”
The Socceroos link up for a training camp in Antalya on Sunday ahead of a clash with the Czech Republic in St Polten, Austria, on June 1, with the final squad of 23 announced two days later.
They then face Hungary in a warm-up match in Budapest on June 9 before heading to Russia.
Speaking to News Corp Australia ahead of the announcement, Cahill denied age and lack of playing time would hinder him in Russia.
“I’ve fought every barrier, every single week of my life as a footballer. Mentally I’ve not been fazed. Physically, I’m in great shape,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to Bert looking for someone and if he looks on the bench or wants to start me, as a leader, that he knows he can count on.”
As well as Maclaren, Bristol City skipper Bailey Wright was cut along with long-term back-up goalkeeper Mitch Langerak, Alex Gersbach, Apostolos Giannou, and Aleksandar Susnjar.
“It is always a challenging task to reduce a squad, however this is the nature of professional sport at the highest level,” said van Marwijk.
“I am sure that in training in Antalya, and in our match against the Czech Republic, we will see players pushing to go to a higher level as they compete for a place in the final squad.”
Australia 26-man World Cup squad (to be cut to final 23 by June 3):
Goalkeepers: Brad Jones (Feyenoord/NED), Mathew Ryan (Brighton/ENG), Daniel Vukovic (Genk/BEL)
Defenders: Aziz Behich (Bursaspor/TUR), Milos Degenek (Yokohama Marinos/JPN), Matthew Jurman (Suwon Bluewings/KOR), Fran Karacic (NK Lokomotiva/CRO), James Meredith (Millwall/ENG), Josh Risdon (Western Sydney Wanderers/AUS), Trent Sainsbury (Grasshopper Club Zurich/SWI)
Midfielders: Joshua Brillante (Sydney FC/AUS), Jackson Irvine (Hull City/ENG), Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa/ENG), Robbie Kruse (VfL Bochum/GER), Massimo Luongo (Queens Park Rangers/ENG), Mark Milligan (Al Ahli/KSA), Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town/ENG), Tom Rogic (Celtic/SCO), James Troisi (Melbourne Victory/AUS)
Forwards: Daniel Arzani (Melbourne City/AUS), Tim Cahill (Millwall/ENG), Tomi Juric (FC Luzern/SWI), Mathew Leckie (Hertha BSC/GER), Andrew Nabbout (Urawa Red Diamonds/JPN), Dimitri Petratos (Newcastle Jets/AUS), Nikita Rukavytsya (Maccabi Haifa/ISR)