Aussie ace aiming for comeback at World Cup

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Australia's prospects at the World Cup might hinge on how Harry Kewell recovers from his latest setback.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:40 IST
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As monikers go, 'Wizard of Oz' was a fair one to describe Harry Kewell when he signed to play for Liverpool in 2003. While his stock has dipped and risen as he's struggled with ankle and groin injuries since joining the Reds from Leeds United, the 27-year-old midfielder has remained a favorite Down Under. Australia's prospects at the World Cup might hinge on how he recovers from his latest setback. Kewell aggravated adductor muscles in his left groin early in the second half of Liverpool's come-from-behind FA Cup final win over West Ham this month and was expected to be sidelined for three weeks. ''It's been about a year, a year and a bit with me stop-starting with this injury,'' Kewell said. ''It's a difficult time for me at the moment, but you can't cry - there's times when you want to - you've just got to get on with it.'' Kewell will miss Australia's friendly against European champion Greece in Melbourne on Thursday and likely another against the Dutch in Rotterdam on June 4. Still, Kewell should be available for Australia's World Cup opener against Japan on June 12 and subsequent Group F matches against defending champion Brazil and Croatia. Kewell said he's working ''24-7'' with medical staffs from Liverpool and Australia to ensure he heals. With an instinctive game, speed and the ability to create and score goals, Kewell is as important to the success of Australia's first World Cup campaign since 1974 as Ronaldinho is for Brazil's title defense. Despite making his international debut in 1996, he's played only 19 times for the Socceroos and scored six international goals. But he's easily Australia's marquee player and can fit into a formation equally as well on the left wing or up front. Kewell came back from groin and hernia surgery last year to help Australia reach the World Cup with an intercontinental qualifying series upset of Uruguay. After being relegated to the bench to start the critical return leg in Sydney, Kewell had an immediate impact when inserted in the lineup in the first half. He set up a goal and then calmly led Australia through the tense shootout as the Socceroos won on penalty kicks. Kewell had earlier missed the Confederations Cup in 2005 to recover from his operations, and Australia struggled for direction. That problem should've been rectified anyway when Australia recruited Guus Hiddink, who guided his native Netherlands to the World Cup semifinals in 1998 and South Korea to the final four in 2002, to mold the Socceroos into a more cohesive combination. But wherever Kewell fits into Hiddink's World Cup plans, he's destined to have a big impact. Craig Johnston, Australia's greatest soccer export, believes Kewell - if fit - has the caliber to shine among the stars of the tournament. ''There's none better in the game, I think, than when Harry's on song. He has a lethal left shot,'' Johnston, who won a European Cup, an FA Cup and English league titles with Liverpool in the 1980s, told The Australian newspaper. Johnston said Kewell had even started winning back Liverpool fans in the year since he hobbled off the field to a chorus of boos from Reds supporters during the 2005 Champions League final win over AC Milan in Istanbul. Kewell's commitment to the club was seriously questioned before, during and after that match. He said he's reminded of that most days, and uses it as motivation. ''I believe I've turned the corner, and you have to,'' Kewell said. Australia assistant coach Graham Arnold has been a longtime admirer of Kewell's abilities and would never question his resolve where the national team is involved. ''Harry's been down this path before with injuries and he knows what has to be done. He'll stay positive and so will we,'' Arnold said. ''Knowing the sort of guy he is, I'm sure he'll respond well.'' Hiddink, however, was a ''little bit concerned'' that Kewell would be missing valuable tactical leadup work with the team in Melbourne this week. (AP)