Australian football team denies disharmony rumors

Published Jun. 16, 2010 7:05 p.m. ET

Australian football chief executive Ben Buckley and star player Harry Kewell denied reports of internal team fighting Wednesday as criticism persisted of coach Pim Verbeek over the team's emphatic loss to Germany.

Buckley called a news conference after an Australian radio station reported that senior players had approached him to complain about Verbeek's tactics during the 4-0 rout in Durban on Sunday.

``That's nonsense,'' Buckley said. ``Our players are an incredibly professional group and they are 100 percent focused on the next game. Frankly speaking, these rumors are disrespectful to the players.''

Kewell was left out of the Germany match altogether despite declaring himself fit. He denied the speculation at the team's practice session late Wednesday.

``'Speculation there's a rift?' There is no rift,'' Kewell said. ``It's rubbish. We're all disappointed but we're all men - we take it on the chin and get on with the next game.''

Australia needs to win its next match against Ghana in Rustenburg on Saturday to have any realistic chance of making the second round.

Verbeek was the second choice for the Australian job behind fellow Dutchman Dick Advocaat, who agreed to terms but then jilted Football Federation Australia.


In March, Verbeek announced he would be joining Morocco as a youth technical director after the World Cup, which is his first as a head coach. That move suggests to some critics that he is not comfortable in the high-pressure role of leading a national team.

Craig Foster, Australia's leading football pundit and a former Socceroos player, told Australian television on Tuesday that Verbeek should be fired mid-tournament because of the nature of the Germany defeat.

``It's not Pim Verbeek's team - it's ours. It's Australia's,'' Foster said. ``He's getting two million bucks a year to send us out in a World Cup and get crucified with no attempt to play anything. I would have walked down after the game and sacked him, because it's not good enough.''

Kewell said the team backed Verbeek and he thought the media should, too.

``It's a shame because people are taking this World Cup and spinning it to be a bad one for us,'' Kewell said. ``They're always having a go at us, having a go at the manager. You are all supposed to be here supporting us.''

Buckley, who was part of the selection committee which appointed Verbeek, rejected the criticism and said no thought had been given to ending Verbeek's contract - either just before the tournament or following the Germany game.

``Pim has done an outstanding job for Australian football,'' Buckley said. ``The FFA has the utmost confidence in the team and staff.''

Verbeek abandoned his preferred tactics in the Group D match against Germany, playing a 4-4-2 formation for only the second time in his 2 1/2-year tenure. The only other time the team did not line up with five midfielders was in his first game.

Verbeek brought only three strikers to South Africa but left all of them on the bench. He also left former Celtic striker Scott McDonald out of the squad because he didn't suit Verbeek's preferred 4-2-3-1 system.

Buckley said the FFA had received several applications to coach the team after the World Cup. Former Netherlands midfielder Ruud Gullit, who has coaching experience at Chelsea, Newcastle and Los Angeles Galaxy, has reportedly said he's interested in the job.

``There has been an excellent response from many coaches and the caliber is extremely high,'' Buckley said. ``We're surprised in the level of interest and quality.''