MELBOURNE (Reuters) - His best years may be well behind him and queries abound over his match fitness, but Tim Cahill will again be called on to conjure up some World Cup magic for Australia at the finals in Russia.
The 38-year-old was named in Bert Van Marwijk’s preliminary 32-man squad and woe betide the Dutchman if he dares exclude the nation’s most prolific goal-scorer from the final roster.
With 50 goals from 105 internationals, Cahill remains revered in Australia and has been the beating heart of the Socceroos in three World Cup campaigns, dating back to the 2006 finals in Germany.
He has barely played any football since crossing to English Championship side Millwall but, as Van Marwijk suggested, there are different rules for Cahill.
“He’s a special case. He’s special in everything,” Van Marwijk said when unveiling his preliminary squad.
“And he’s also a player who will not be nervous when he plays for 80,000 people.”
Cahill has proved himself the ultimate big-stage performer since his 2006 World Cup debut, when he came off the bench to score a brace in the dying minutes of the group-stage match against Japan, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 win.
He netted three more times at the next two World Cups, including one of the goals of the tournament in Brazil, when he produced a stunning volley in the 3-2 loss to the Netherlands.
A relentless attacking midfielder in his halcyon days, the former Everton stalwart has camped closer to goal in his thirties and spent more time on the bench in recent years.
He remains a formidable finisher and ready to produce when called upon, as showed when he rescued Australia with two goals to win the second leg of the Asian World Cup playoff against Syria in October.
Cahill’s ability to remain in the selection frame says much about his longevity and plenty about Australia’s failure to produce a replacement.
His playing time in Russia might amount only to cameo roles against group rivals France, Denmark and Peru, but few would be surprised if the veteran makes a big impression during his World Cup swansong.
Editing by Toby Davis