On the 21st of June 2005, Australia’s World Cup hopes lay in tatters.
The side had just been defeated 2-0 by Tunisia in the Confederations Cup in Germany. It was their third game at the tournament and their third defeat.
There were rumours of player dissent involving coach Frank Farina and senior players and all hope of defeating Uruguay in the World Cup playoffs seemed lost.
On the 10th of May 2006, the Socceroos squad for the 2006 World Cup was announced, and the nation’s football fans now believe the sky is the limit.
The change in 10 months seems almost unbelievable, that is of course unless you’d never heard of Guus Hiddink.
Enter the master
When people in Australia heard that Dutchman Guus Hiddink was taking the reigns of the Socceroos, after Frank Farina had been shown the door, few could believe their ears.
'The Helicopter' winds up
Some thought the footballing mastermind who had taken both Holland and South Korea to World Cup semi finals and carried one of world football’s best CVs was either simply keen to pick up a quick pay cheque or had gone mad, as the current feeling on taking the Socceroos to South America was about as close to a suicide mission as one could get.
However, the transformation has been nothing short of extraordinary and the cynics have quickly turned into believers.
From a tactical point of view, Hiddink has again used his successful template when working with the Australians; favouring technically savvy players and those who are versatile and can play in a variety of positions and systems.
The Dutchman became known as 'The Helicopter' for his perceived knack of floating above the side, seeing and presiding over all. He quickly changed the approach of the Australian side.
He employed a back three which started defending further up the field to nullify the opponent’s options on set pieces. He had a preference for midfielders who were able to play a short passing game and work with a strong central striker.
Under this system Netherlands based player Jason Culina rose to prominence.
The PSV midfielder has added further competition to Australia’s strongest area as it boasts the likes of Liverpool’s Harry Kewell, Everton’s Tim Cahill and Parma duo Marco Bresicano and Vince Grella.
Hiddink has handed the captain’s armband to Middlesbrough striker Mark Viduka.
The big target man produced two of his best displays for Australia in their qualifying games against Uruguay.
The V-Bomber ready for take off
Although his goal record for Australia is just 6 goals in 33 appearances, there is no doubt over his ability at the highest level.
Indeed for Australia to move into the round of 16, he will need to add to that tally. His ability to hold the ball up and bring in midfielders who are surging from deep has also come to the fore under Hiddink.
Hiddink’s squad contains few surprises. Only a limited number of spots were really up for grabs and the selection of Sydney FC’s Mark Milligan and German based striker Josh Kennedy may have created a few headlines, but it is unlikely the two youngsters will have much to do in Germany.
There are a few injury worries for Kewell, Cahill and Middlesbrough shot stopper Mark Schwarzer.
However, all are expected to be fit for the finals and the side goes in to the tournament in good form.
Viduka ended the year with a flurry of goals up front, Blackburn’s Lucas Neill and Brett Emerton helped their side qualify for Europe, while a fit again Craig Moore looked strong at the back for his new club Newcastle.
But while the players may be brimming with confidence, the focus will again be on the Russia bound Hiddink. Should he guide his current employers out of their group and towards the final, a place in Australian sporting folklore is his.