Huge disparity highlights Caltex Socceroos' four-year transformation
It's the 260-match gap that could make all the difference in Russia.
Hardened by a gruelling qualifying campaign that began three years ago, the Caltex Socceroos head to the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ stocked with the know-how of a combined 669 international appearances.
That number alone represents a monumental metamorphosis of the wide-eyed group that were dropped into the Group of Death at Brazil 2014.
Only Algeria had fewer than Australia's 409 collective caps at that tournament, and even the Desert Warriors boasted 10 players with at least 20 appearances each. Ange Postecoglou's side had just six.
That number has since doubled.
Group C opponents Denmark and France are now among the 10 nations with less international experience than Bert van Marwijk's men, 17 of whom have previously been to a major tournament.
It all adds up to an average of 11 more caps per player across the 23-man squad.
Tomi Juric, 26, is a symbol for the growth.
Not yet in the frame four years ago, he heads to Russia as a 34-time international who has won the AFC Asian Cup, scored against Germany at the FIFA Confederations Cup and spent the past three seasons playing club football in Europe.
The Luzern striker, who is locked in a four-way race to be the starting centre-forward, believes the experience gained since Brazil can be a big bonus for a squad which remains nestled in the middle of the curve in terms of average age.
"Obviously it's been a long process and we're finally at the stage of the biggest tournament in the world," Juric told socceroos.com.au.
"Having more caps under our belts, I think that'll do us a lot of good going into the tournament.
"There's definitely a lot more experience than the last campaign. For me personally, I've got a lot more games under my belt, over 30 games now for Australia.
"Hopefully I can get a lot more in the future. This is definitely a moment where if I'm not ready now I won't be for a while."
Juric features among a group including Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic and Trent Sainsbury who missed out in 2014 but, with over 30 caps each, are poised to play a big part in determining the extent of the Caltex Socceroos' run in Russia.
The only impediment to the target man's hopes of spearheading the charge has been a niggling knee injury that followed him into camp.
He was kept in cotton wool for the 4-0 win over the Czech Republic last Friday, but says progress has been made ahead of the final hit-out against Hungary on Sunday morning (1:30am AEST).
"I'm good. Obviously not the way I wanted to come into camp and start off these preparations," Juric said of his fitness.
"But sometimes you have to play with the cards you're dealt and I've made the most of it now.
"I'm preparing as best as possible to get ready for the first game."
Minor injury concerns aside, Bert van Marwijk will be satisfied to have a tight-knit, battle-ready squad at his disposal for that first clash with France on June 16.
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