FIFA RANK: 20
Australia may be on the other side of the globe, but the country's rise in soccer has been nothing short of out this world.
Four years ago, the Socceroos weren't too well known, but advanced out of the group stage after blasting Japan, playing Brazil tough in a loss and grabbing a crucial draw against heavily favored Croatia. Australia then faced eventual champ Italy in the knockout round and were defeated by a controversial penalty kick late in the match. It was such a bad Italian dive that even former NBA flopper Vlade Divac was embarassed for the Italians.
Either way, that match put the Aussie's on the map and they haven't looked back since. The success four years ago also helped the Socceroos move out of Oceania's qualifying confederation and move into Asia's. Think of it like a mid-major moving up into a BCS conference. The Aussie's made most of the move and easily qualified for South Africa even though the level of competition had been raised another notch.
Leading the Socceroos into South Africa is a squad made up of players who are responsible for what's been called the "Golden Generation of Aussie Football."
10 of the 11 starters on the roster return from the '06 squad. But the only player missing is a big one, former team captain Mark Viduka, who retired last year.
Picking up the slack for Viduka's absence is explosive Everton midfielder Tim Cahill. Cahill at only 5-10, is the Socceroos best playmaker and scorer. Harry Kewell is also back in form after a sloppy '06 campaign and the man in between the posts is veteran keeper Mark Schwarzer, who at 38 years old, has become one of the best in England while playing for Fulham.
Despite all the positives, one big negative looms over this squad...the group draw. The Socceroos have been placed in a very difficult group that includes Germany, Ghana and Serbia.
The Germans are a slight favorite, and the rest will likely be fighting for second. The Aussie's can't slip up once if they want to advance.
And truthfully, this may be the final shot for this current group of players at the World Cup. Most are 30 or older, and the thought down under is the younger generation will be ushered in after the summer.
But before we get to that point, this "Golden Generation" of Socceroos are looking to shine and add to their legacy in South Africa.
June 13 vs. Germany - 1:30 p.m. CT (Aussie's get Germans coping with the loss of Michael Ballack, I can see a draw while Germans adjust)
June 19 vs. Ghana - 9 a.m. CT (I said before this would most likely be another draw, both sides are too experienced to give up too much)
June 23 vs. Serbia - 1:30 p.m. CT (Socceroos need a win somewhere, and this may be the most likely chance of that happening)
NEXT ON THE PITCH: NIGERIA