SYDNEY (AFP) – Veteran goalscorer Tim Cahill remains indispensable as Australia head into their World Cup playoff with Honduras – even when he’s injured and rapidly approaching his 38th birthday.
Cahill’s enduring value was in evidence this week when he flew out to Honduras, wearing an ice pack and accompanied by a medic, despite badly twisting an ankle in the A-League days earlier.
Cahill, who is no certainty to play, said it was a “calculated decision” to travel for the first leg as Australia attempt to reach a fifth World Cup next year in Russia.
Even if he doesn’t start in San Pedro Sula today, Australians will be hoping their perennial match-winner will be back to his best by next week’s make-or-break second leg in Sydney.
The former Everton striker has played in the last three World Cups and lifted the 2015 Asian Cup with Australia, but his will to win – and his eye for goal – remain unsurpassed.
There’s no better example than his two signature headed goals to guide Australia past Syria in the Asian playoff to set up the showdown with Honduras, the fourth-placed side in CONCACAF qualifying.
With that double Cahill, who will turn 38 in early December, extended his record tally for Australia to 50 goals in 103 internationals.
Last Friday, Australia’s football fans collectively held their breath as Cahill painfully twisted his ankle playing for Melbourne City. Scans revealed no ankle fracture, and Cahill was allowed a day’s extra rest to let the swelling subside before making the long flight to Central America.
While not likely to start, the hope is that Cahill may again prove a decisive influence off the bench, or even just behind the scenes.
“It’s a massive two weeks for Australian soccer, but I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought it was the wrong thing,” he said before leaving on Monday.
“I’ll give it a go but if not I want to be in the trenches with my team-mates.”
National coach Ange Postecoglou is fully aware of what Cahill brings to the table, given his indomitable attitude and 20 years of playing experience in England, the United States and China.
“He’s just a freak,” Postecoglou said after Cahill’s fairytale double against Syria.
“He’s got real belief in himself. He’s just a unique, extraordinary individual. He led from the front.”
Australian-born Cahill’s CV makes extraordinary reading. He began playing for Western Samoa under-20s and only became a Socceroo in 2004 after an intense lobbying campaign to world body FIFA.
He went on to become the first Australian to net a goal at the World Cup in Germany two years later, and has scored in three World Cups (2006, 2010, 2014) in total.
His stunning volley against the Netherlands in Brazil was voted by FIFA as one of 2014’s greatest goals.
Apart from his record international haul, in 2007 Cahill was also the first Australian to score at an Asian Cup, and his goals in 2015 – including a memorable bicycle kick against China – helped them lift the trophy on home soil.
Cahill spent 14 years in England with Millwall and Everton, scoring more than 100 goals before signing for the New York Red Bulls, and later had stints in China with Shanghai Shenhua and Hangzhou Greentown.
He returned home last year to play with Melbourne City and remains at the fulcrum of the national team, 13 years after his debut against South Africa in March 2004.
Australian fans have adopted the phrase “cometh the hour, cometh Tim Cahill” given his knack for scoring just when a goal is needed on the big occasion.
“That’s why Timmy’s Timmy. He’s is a great Australian sportsman,” Postecoglou said. “He’s got an international record that stacks up against the best.”
Cahill is a coach’s dream, and his hunger to run and compete for everything is unmatched even now by his much younger national teammates.
“It’s the biggest two weeks of our lives. If we get to a World Cup, that’s all that matters,” Cahill told reporters.