Hiddink turns things around Down Under
MUNICH, Germany, June 17 (Reuters) The mastermind behind Australia's impressive start to the World Cup has taken less than a year to turn a disenchanted and uninspired squad into players confident of taking on any team at the finals.
Dutch coach Guus Hiddink was hired at great expense to get the Socceroos through to their first World Cup in 32 years after steering the Netherlands then Korea to the semi-finals of the past two World Cups.
He delivered on his promise when they beat Uruguay in a penalty shootout and is now eyeing a place in the second round after they opened their campaign with a 3-1 win over Japan.
It has been anything but smooth sailing for a man regarded as a coaching genius.
When Hiddink first took over as coach in September last year, he discovered a team of players low on confidence and imagination, and was starting to doubt whether they could make the World Cup.
So he trained them as hard as he could, getting them physically and mentally fitter than ever before, and discovered a pleasant surprise.
The players responded to the gruelling training sessions by working even harder. They were willing to learn and began to believe in themselves.
''They responded and they got more confident and they started to aim at qualifying,'' Hiddink explained to a news conference on Saturday.
''One of the things I like about this team is that they adapt themselves to circumstances very easily.
''They don't have a lot of fear going into games. It's their mentality to be open and go for it. It doesn't mean that they are cocky or arrogant.'' RELATIVELY MINOR Hiddink knows his Australian team will probably not win this World Cup but believes they can establish a legacy for future generations.
Soccer remains a relatively minor sport in Australia but their early World Cup success has created unprecedented interest back home.
''We have proven already that we are taking steps ahead in world football. I think Australia deserves to be here,'' he said.
''If we came here and got beaten in our first two games then you have to ask whether you have to be on the world stage but I think they've now confirmed that the team can be of value in this World Cup.'' Australia captain Mark Viduka said Hiddink had given the team a new lease by changing the way they approach the game.
''He brought a different style and approach to what we're used to at the national team,'' Viduka said.
''There's a work ethic there. We've had very, very hard training sessions. The last two weeks we had, you would have thought we were going to war.'' REUTERS PDS PC2031