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"I don't want this underdog crap, I'm over that"

Soccer

Ange Postecoglou wants his Socceroos to prove they’re no longer the underdogs of world football in a looming friendly against what’s shaping to be a vastly undermanned England side.

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The sold-out Friday night game in Sunderland (Saturday, Australian time) is a rare opportunity for Australia to square off against a top-10 opponent instead of another Asian foe like lowly-ranked World Cup qualifying opponents Tajikistan or Bangladesh.

Up to 8000 travelling Australians are expected to descend on the Stadium Of Light, hoping to watch the Asian Cup champions produce a repeat of the last fixture between these sides, a 3-1 Socceroos win in 2003.

Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak remembers the game, but said it hadn’t been spoken about in camp this week.

“We all know it, I definitely do, I’m sure most of the other boys do but the sole focus is going to be on what we’re trying to do,” Jedinak said.

“It’s a great honour to be here and to be representing my country.

“If we can test ourselves against good opposition, away from home, it’s going to put us in a good place going forward.”

While the fans will be brimming with nostalgia come kickoff, that famous 2003 victory hasn’t been part of Postecoglou’s message to his players this week.

The Socceroos coach is more determined to showcase Australia’s brand of football to the wider world.

“I don’t want to play this underdog crap, I’ve been over that for a while,” Postecoglou said.

“I don’t really care what other people think, I’ve always said that. At the end of the day it’s really about us and we want to play our football against a good opponent – whether other people like it or don’t like it is pretty irrelevant to be honest.

“Hopefully we get into the space as a national team and as a nation where we don’t really care what other people and other nations think of us. Hopefully they don’t want to play us in the future.”

Postecoglou will use the game to tinker with his squad and formation ahead of a two-game friendly series with Greece back in Australia next month.

But his eyes are looking further down the barrel, with Australia’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign to resume in September.

“It’s a great opportunity tomorrow night to test ourselves and our football and the last thing you want is to get to the end of the 90 minutes and you haven’t done that,” Postecoglou said on Thursday.

“We want to come off the pitch at the end of the game knowing we’ve played our brand of football against a quality opponent and tested ourselves, and inched just a little bit further forward in the way we want to play.

“We don’t get many windows now where we can play opposition outside our federation. The most important thing is we get ready for what’s coming ahead in September, October.

“We’ve got a tough World Cup qualifying campaign coming up and these games are valuable for us to be ready for that.”

The Socceroos are set to face a vastly under-strength England in Sunderland after injuries forced Roy Hodgson to drastically alter his team.

Just two weeks out from his first European Championship game, the England coach has been hit with a spate of injuries to his 26-man squad.

Manchester United young gun Marcus Rashford will debut against Australia, likely in the starting 11 in place of Daniel Sturridge who hasn’t trained for the last two days with a calf injury.

England will make a game day decision on whether or not the Liverpool striker plays.

Defender Gary Cahill has been ruled out entirely after requiring an injection to his hip, but should be fit next week ahead of England’s last friendly against Portugal.

And midfielder Fabian Delph didn’t even travel with his England teammates on Thursday, left behind in Manchester to nurse a groin strain which will likely cost him a spot in Hodgson’s final 23-man Euro squad to be named this weekend.

“If Sturridge isn’t fit tomorrow then I think you’ll all work out that he [Rashford] is going to start the game,” Hodgson said in England’s pre-match press conference.

“I’m happy with that, I’m more than content he can handle the situation.

“It doesn’t take a lot of detective work to work out that, with me wanting to rest [Jamie] Vardy and [Harry] Kane,” Hodgson said.

“There was no doubt that my original intention was to choose between Sturridge, Rashford and possibly one other.”

Hodgson had been toying with the idea of a front three against Australia featuring captain Wayne Rooney on the left, Adam Lallana on the right and either Sturridge or Rashford in the middle.

But his formation looks set to change now to accommodate his depleted forward stocks, with Rooney likely to now start from the bench.

With Cahill out, Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson now looks the man to take the captain’s armband.

Fellow Liverpool man Nathaniel Clyne should line up at right back with Ryan Bertrand on the left, and Fraser Forster will replace Joe Hart in goal.

Postecoglou refused to give any hints into the make-up of his starting 11, but A-League sharpshooter Jamie Maclaren is expected to debut up forward.

Adelaide United’s Stefan Mauk, Milos Degenek and Brad Inman also look set to make their international debuts

-AAP

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