MELBOURNE - For Australia's evergreen goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, questions about the Socceroos' ageing World Cup squad are given the same treatment as a striker's speculative shot from long range - met head on and parried away to safety.
At 37, the oldest in a team dominated by creaky-boned players on the wrong side of 30, Schwarzer hardly needs his renowned powers of anticipation to see them coming.
"I don't think age is a factor - at all," the 73-cap veteran told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
"I think it's all based on performance ... I think it's all down to whether or not the players are good enough to perform at that level.
"We've proven over the course of the last 18 months at the very least that we've been able to achieve our goal of qualifying for the World Cup and we did that quite comfortably.
"Our squad, the players that we've got, are good enough to perform at international level."
Schwarzer, a member of the class of 2006 that took the Socceroos to a surprise second round appearance at the World Cup finals in Germany, will join many of his fellow alumni for another tilt in South Africa where Australia will face Group D rivals Germany, Serbia and Ghana.
The fresh-faced squad that won admirers for their tenacity and refusal to be intimidated by more fancied teams in their first World Cup in 32 years, now has a greyish tinge about it and is dogged by fitness concerns to key players.
Not Schwarzer, though. The Sydney-born son of German immigrants is fit, free of injury niggles and feels he is still at the peak of his game after helping English club Fulham to a unlikely spot in the Europa League final earlier this month.
His big-game composure and on-field leadership have landed him first-choice goalkeeper status in coach Pim Verbeek's squad.
"Obviously, in a way I've been fortunate not to have too many injuries, but on the other hand I've worked very hard to try and prevent them," said Schwarzer.
"I try and work as hard as possible on the training field and off it. I'm in the gym a lot. The key is just looking after yourself.
"I'm definitely more experienced - and definitely four years older, without a doubt - but if anything I feel even more confident than I did four years ago."
While Australia's run to the 2006 knockout rounds under then-manager Guus Hiddink won plaudits at home and abroad, Schwarzer's own campaign went awry from the start.
The rangy 1.93 metres tall keeper conceded a goal early in Australia's first group match against Japan after being manhandled in the box and was dropped after letting in two against Brazil.
Recalled for the second round clash against Italy, Schwarzer was left with the near-impossible task of stopping a Francesco Totti spot-kick awarded after a controversial last-minute penalty.
He anticipated it correctly but his desperate lunge could not prevent Australia from packing their bags.
"I don't watch a lot of videos," Schwarzer said, wearing a paint-splattered jump-suit after being pelted with footballs dipped in paint at a sponsor's event in Melbourne's Spencer Street station.
"Of course, that was a major disappointment but sometimes the luck runs out, sometimes you don't get the rub of the green."
"All you want to do is go to the next World Cup, as we are, and hopefully, (with) new targets, we can go there and at the very least, try and emulate what we achieved in 2006."
Schwarzer was named Australia's player of the year last year after notching seven clean sheets from the last eight qualifiers and never stinting to board long-haul flights to far-flung Asian destinations, unlike some other Europe-based players.
He has no intentions of slowing down and would happily head to Brazil in 2014 if his coach and body would allow him.
"I'd love to play til 2018 and 2022, but that's physically impossible. We'll have to wait and see," he said.
"I think for most footballers the fire is always there. Even when they stop playing football, it's still there."comments