SYDNEY (Reuters) – Tim Cahill has attracted countless plaudits and the fierce devotion of many fans over his long career but on Saturday Australia’s favourite footballing son could finally get his hands on some serious silverware.
A runners-up medal with Australia at the 2011 Asian Cup and another two after losing English FA Cup finals with Millwall and Everton are a relatively paltry return for 17 years in the professional game.
In front of 80,000 of his fellow Sydneysiders on Saturday, though, Cahill will be leading the Australia front line as the Socceroos take on South Korea to decide the 2015 Asian champions.
Now one of the few thirtysomethings in the squad Ange Postecoglou has rebuilt since he took over as coach in October 2013, Cahill serves as talisman, inspiration and, most importantly, goal-scorer.
“I am really proud of the boys, the staff and everyone that has backed us from the start,” he said after the 2-0 victory over United Arab Emirates in Tuesday’s semi-final.
“During the 14 months the journey has been amazing. Now we have to focus on one of the biggest games in Australian football history.”
Anyone who thought Cahill’s powers might be on the wane towards the end of his career will have been forced to reassess over the last seven months.
His stunning volley against the Netherlands was one of the best goals at last year’s World Cup and he produced a brilliant bicycle kick as part of a two-goal effort to see off China in the Asian Cup quarter-finals last week.
They are just two of the 39 goals he has scored in 81 matches in the green and gold since he made his debut for Australia in 2004, making him his country’s most prolific scorer.
Cahill scored his first international goals 11 years ago to help the Socceroos to the last of their Oceania Nations Cup titles, earned by
beating the Solomon Islands 11-1 on aggregate in the final.
The competition has got stiffer since Australia joined the Asian confederation but Cahill has never stopped scoring, mostly with his head and in the last 10 years always celebrated with a flurry of punches aimed at a corner flag.
His ability to jump above much taller defenders and get his head on the ball is a mark of his determination and combative nature.
The desire for continual improvement has also helped with his longevity and it is a theme his team mates will hear plenty about as they
prepare to face the South Koreans at Stadium Australia.
“When we look at the game today are we really happy with the way we played? Possibly not really,” he said after the dominant semi-final victory in Newcastle.
“We know we have played better. We definitely could have been tidier on the ball.”
Cahill has made it clear that the Asian Cup will not be his Socceroos swan song and has indicated he might try and play on until the 2018 World Cup, which would be his fourth.
Reports in Asian media indicate he might soon be leaving New York Red Bulls for a three-year deal with a club in the Arabian Gulf.
Whatever the truth, it will not distract Cahill from his preparations for Saturday’s match.
“I won’t focus on Korea, I have never focused on any team I have played,” he said. “We need to understand the position we are in. It is going to be all about us.
“The mindset is to win, but to win the right way, by playing good football. It is going to be a big night.”