Socceroos journey into the unknown

Guam, Hong Kong and Taipei may be minnows of world football, but North Korea could provide trouble for the Qantas Socceroos.

The last time the Socceroos played Hong Kong in a competitive fixture, John Kosmina was a young striker just starting to find his feet in the international arena.

That was a World Cup qualifier in 1977 - long before Kosmina transformed into a grizzled A-League coach.

The Adelaide United tactician probably knows a thing or two about Hong Kong having made his debut against them a year earlier.

Ironically, his former Sydney City and international teammate Steve O-Connor is now the technical director of the Hong Kong Football Association and what the Socceroos wouldn-t give for some inside information on the current Hong Kong team.

That-s because their trip to the glittering metropolis for the four-game East Asian Cup qualifying series is undoubtedly a journey into the unknown.

Not only has Australia travelled with its most inexperienced squad in years - comprised of a mixture of A-League players and a handful of overseas-based talent - but the Socceroos are unlikely to know too much about their opponents.

And a first-up clash with the tournament hosts at the compact Mong Kok Stadium isn-t the easiest way to kick off proceedings.

Hypothetically Australia should have no trouble knocking off lowly-ranked Hong Kong, for whom Chan Siu-Ki is the undoubted star.

Plying his trade in the Chinese second division with Guangdong, Chan is the only player based outside Hong Kong-s domestic league.

He-s only just returned to the side following the departure of former coach Ernie Merrick and scored both goals in Hong Kong-s opening 2-1 win over Guam.

Guam, who took 35 years to register a win over a FIFA-ranked side, are likely to be the tournament-s easybeats but the same can-t be said for North Korea.

Led by experienced skipper Ri Kwang-Chon and boasting several players who featured at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the Chollima are by far the biggest threat.

They hammered Chinese Taipei 6-1 in their opening game and having poured considerable funds into youth football in recent years, they-re likely to boast several highly talented youngsters in their squad.

One of those is Ri Myong-Jun, a 22-year-old striker formerly on the books of Danish side Vestsjaelland who scored twice against hapless Taipei.

The North Koreans sensationally failed to qualify for the 2010 edition of the East Asian Cup and they-ll be determined to avoid a similar fate this time around.

Sadly for Taipei - a state more commonly known as Taiwan - they-re missing their captain and most recognisable player Xavier Chen through injury.

Had it not been for an eagle-eyed Taiwanese official, Chen wouldn-t even be playing international football.

The Belgian-born defender was spotted in an online version of FIFA Soccer by a Taipei official who soon realised Chen was eligible to play for the national team.

Despite having spent little time in the region, Chen took up the option to captain Chinese Taipei but picked up an injury in a recent Belgian Pro League game for Mechelen and will sadly miss the qualifying tournament.

That-s unlikely to affect the Socceroos, who should have more than enough firepower to see off the Taiwanese in a tournament in which goal difference could prove important, with only the team that finishes top progressing to the finals.

And with a place at stake to face hosts South Korea, Japan and China next July, a raft of fringe Socceroos will hope to impress as Australia takes its first tentative steps on the path towards a testing regional showdown.