Australia squad keep low profile in Germany
OEHRINGEN, Germany, June 7 (Reuters) Having spent more than three decades desperately trying to get to the World Cup, Australia are suddenly doing everything they can to stay away from the excitement surrounding the finals.
While the glamour teams like Brazil and Germany are being feted like pop stars wherever they go, the Socceroos have been keeping a conspicuously low profile.
The squad is staying at a luxurious hunting lodge outside the quaint south-west German town of Oehringen. Security is tight and the public and media are not welcome at the hotel.
''Being away from the limelight and being away from the hustle and bustle of a bigger city I think gives you an opportunity to really focus on the job in hand,'' Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer told reporters.
Defender Lucas Neill said he was also glad to be away from prying eyes at the rural hideaway.
''There are no people around, there's security everywhere, there's loads of places to walk, you don't hear a single thing at night,'' he said.
''It's a total peace haven and it's great amidst the World Cup fever and the World Cup craziness that's going on.'' The residents of Oehringen have adopted the Socceroos as their own but have had little contact with the players.
The squad failed to show up at their official welcome reception yesterday but allowed the public to watch them train later that afternoon.
A crowd of about 5,000 attended the session including hundreds of schoolchildren who probably know more about the players than most Australians.
EUROPEAN EXPERIENCE All but two members of the squad, who start their campaign on Monday against Japan in the opening match in Group F, play their club football in Europe.
Schwarzer, who saved two penalties in last year's World Cup playoff win over Uruguay, is of German descent while striker Josh Kennedy has spent the last two seasons with Dynamo Dresden.
Most of the Australians, including their best-known players Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka, ply their trade in England while the others are scattered throughout the Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Swiss and Swedish leagues.
They are paid a fortune and recognised wherever they go but could not be more different than the last Australia team that qualified for the World Cup in 1974, also in Germany.
They were a band of brotherly misfits who had left Europe for a better life in Australia but were brought together by their common love of football.
Those players failed to win a match or even score a goal at the World Cup and did not have to worry about hiding from the public because no-one knew who they were.
The captain was Peter Wilson, a no-nonsense centre-half born in Middlesbrough, England, who now lives as a recluse in a mountain hideaway south of Sydney.
At the heart of the defence was German-born Manfred Schaefer, whose full-time job was as a milkman.
Their key striker was Atti Abonyi, who emigrated to Australia from Hungary when he was 10 and now reportedly runs a laundry business.
Even the coach, Rale Rasic, was born in Yugoslavia and raised in an orphanage before moving to Australia.
REUTERS DH PM1718