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 on Friday, 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.
– ‘He’s just a freak’ –
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 on Friday, 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.”