Has Melbourne lost its taste for the Socceroos?

by Paddy Higgs on Jun 03, 2011

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The Socceroos are in town, but there is no need to tell Adelaide.

With Adelaide Oval to host its first international after an absence of 53 years, more than 25,000 tickets have been sold for the Socceroos' meeting with New Zealand on Sunday.

Australia's missing key personnel has mattered little to the punters, nor has the All Whites' unsexy world ranking of 56: South Australia is just rapt to have the Socceroos back.

Across the border, however, the anticipation has been rather more subdued.

Melbourne's Docklands Stadium will stage the second friendly of the Socceroos' schedule, with Serbia to take on Holger Osieck's men on Tuesday.

Ranked 16th in the world and with a wealth of talent in tow, Serbia will be out for revenge for their defeat at the hands of the Socceroos at the 2010 World Cup.

But local media coverage has been minimal, and ticket sales in Melbourne are rumoured to be lagging behind those a little further west.

The consistent opinion among the casual football supporter seems to be that, with stars of both teams missing and the game at the Etihad Stadium rather than AAMI Park, it might be worth attending - just as long as it is not too cold out or work has not been too stressful that day.

Serbia's squad is missing Manchester United centre-back Nemaja Vidic, Chelsea full-back Branislav Ivanovic and Juventus winger Milos Krasic.

And yeah, the Socceroos will be without marquee names Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill and Mark Schwarzer.

But only a fool would fail to find this fixture unworthy of parting his hard earned for.

In 1999, Brazil sent a largely under-23 side to Australia for two 'B' friendlies. While Brazil's squad contained few household names, the wizardry of Alex and Denilson was worth the price alone — though a series a marketing bungles meant gates were opened for free.

It was not long before the world was talking about a kid from Gremio that scored Brazil's opener in the 2-2 draw at the MCG. His name, for those who can not recall, was Ronaldinho.

Serbia coach Vladimir Petrovic could hand debut caps to as many as seven of his squad in the friendlies against South Korea and Australia – one of which is 29-year-old journeyman striker Miljan Mrdakovic – while goalkeepers Damir Kahriman and Bojan Saranov boast just one international appearance between them.

But the side still easily possesses enough quality to entertain. For the uninformed, type the name of Inter Milan midfielder Dejan Stankovic into YouTube and see what you get.

The talent of attackers Zoran Tosic and Adem Ljajic both warranted moves to Manchester United earlier in their careers, with the former now at CSKA Moscow and the latter roaming the midfield of Fiorentina.

Add in complete Stuttgart midfielder Zdravko Kuzmanović, and Serbia's engine room begins to look ominous.

Petrovic is hardly short of quality at the back, either.

Commanding centre-back Neven Subotic was a key part of Borussia Dortmund's Bundesliga title, while 22-year-old Ivan Obradovic is a regular for La Liga outfit Real Zaragoza.

Aleksandar Kolorov will need no introduction to followers of the English Premier League.
As well as a penchant for getting forward, the Manchester City full-back can hit a lethal free-kick.

And what of Australia?

Cahill, Kewell and Schwarzer may be missing, but captain Lucas Neill, Luke Wilkshire, Brett Emerton and Brett Holman make the trip.

There is a return for cult hero Joshua Kennedy, with Asian Cup success story Robbie Kruse a chance to partner him in attack.

Youth is given further chance by Osieck in the form of James Troisi, Michael Zullo, Rhys Williams and Mitchell Langerak, while Matthew Spiranovic gets another chance win a spot in Australia's defence.
So why the indifference? Are Melbourne's football followers starting to take their privilege for granted?

Since qualification for the 2006 World Cup was assured, Melbourne has played host to six Socceroos fixtures, with Serbia the seventh.
Victoria's capital trails only behind Sydney's 10 appearances, but was the venue for both World Cup farewell matches and the glamour friendly with Argentina.

True, Serbia have no Messi in their squad. But those at the MCG back in 1999 will proudly tell of how they were pitchside as that wonky-toothed kid from Brazil made himself known to the Australia's football fans, at least. Who is to say Tuesday's match will not herald the emergence of the next star for Australia or Serbia?

It is also worth remembering that Serbia is a country ranked four spots above the Socceroos in FIFA's world rankings, and will likely attract boisterous support to Docklands.

So get excited, Melbourne. Football is on your doorstep again.