Tim Cahill has long since secured his place as a true legend of Australian sport.
The former Everton striker has earned over a hundred caps and played and scored in three World Cups for his country. Cahill’s 50 goals for the Socceroos make him their all-time top scorer and some of these goals have been the most decisive in his nation’s footballing history.
Just last October, Australia went 1-0 down at home to Syria in the second leg of their AFC World Cup qualifying playoff. This put the Syrians 2-1 up on aggregate and had the Aussies on the brink of missing out on Russia 2018. But, as has so often been the case, it was Cahill to the rescue. Within minutes, he headed home the equaliser. The game ended 1-1 and entered extra time. As penalties loomed, Cahill produced one of his trademark goals – an incredible leap to head home the winning goal with 11 minutes remaining.
Eleven years earlier, Cahill had performed another rescue act, scoring twice in the last six minutes as Australia came from behind to beat Japan 3-1 at the 2006 World Cup. Now 38, Cahill is far from the force he was in his Everton heyday, but his cameo against Syria proved he can still rise to the occasion. His move back to Millwall in January was intended to help him rediscover his sharpness ahead of this summer’s World Cup, but things didn’t really work out in his second spell in South East London.
Despite his status as arguably Australia’s best ever player, many fans felt that he did not deserve his place in the squad due to his lack of recent playing time. However, many also argued that his big-game mentality could be vital and that he would be the perfect man to bring on in the final 20 minutes if the Australians needed a goal.
Well, two such moments have now passed and Cahill has stayed on the bench. On Matchday One, Paul Pogba put France 2-1 up with 10 minutes remaining, but Socceroos boss Bert van Marwijk refused to give the country’s talisman a chance to level the score.
Cahill on the bench
Five days later, Australia had Denmark on the rack and, with the score tied at 1-1, it again seemed the moment to unleash Cahill. Van Marwijk brought on teenage sensation Daniel Arzani for Robbie Kruse and was forced to replace striker Andrew Nabbout due to injury, bringing on Tomi Juric with 15 minutes remaining.
There was still one last throw of the dice remaining in a game that was there for the taking. Bizarrely, van Marwijk chose to take off one potential match winner in Tom Rogic and leave Cahill on the bench. On came Hull City midfielder Jackson Irvine, who is not exactly a go-to guy for a side that needs a goal. The game ended 1-1 and debate began as to why Cahill hadn’t been given a shot.
Former Socceroos and Blackburn Rovers winger Robbie Slater was one of the most outspoken, claiming van Marwijk had got it “massively wrong” in not bringing on Cahill to try and snatch the winning goal.
Opponents of using Cahill highlight the fact that he spent just 63 minutes on the pitch at Millwall. They also point to the relatively absurd notion that a 38-year-old with limited match fitness and mobility should be favoured on the off chance he can get his head on crosses into the box.
However, his achievements against Syria last year suggest he is worth the gamble.
The Aussies have defended well in the tournament, but both of their goals have come from Mile Jedinak penalties. Nabbout has battled gamely but failed to threaten up front. Winger Matthew Leckie and playmaker Rogic both impressed against Denmark but they cannot be expected to come up with the goals.
A team that is short on goal scorers
Australia must now defeat Peru in their final Group C game on Tuesday and hope that Denmark lose to France if they are to progress to the last 16. With France already qualified, their level of motivation against the Danes may be limited, which could count against the Aussies.
If the score against Peru is level with 20 minutes remaining and there is still a substitute to be used, surely it will finally be time to bring Cahill into the fray to try and perform heroics one more time.
The 38-year-old may be past his best but he may well be the best option for a team that is short on goal scorers.
The problem is that, with just one point from two matches, van Marwijk may have already missed the chance to make the most of one of Australia’s greatest ever players.