Week after week, Mark Schwarzer comes up against the cream of English
Exclusive: Week after week, Mark Schwarzer comes up against the cream of English strikers in his role as Middlesbrough goalkeeper. Nothing new for him in that respect on Wednesday except that this time, he could be working overtime when his native Australia come to Upton Park.
As the last line of his country's defence against Sven Goran Eriksson's side, Schwarzer's performance could be the difference between a respectable result for Australia and defeat. Playing for Premiership points has its own pressures but the chance to put himself in the shop window by trying to keep out everything England's strike force throws at him is just as important for Boro's keeper at a time when his country is trying to justify the decision by FIFA to grant Oceania an automatic World Cup berth.
Schwarzer doesn't need reminding about the historic rivalry between the two nations and how Australia rubbed English noses in the dust during cricket's recent Ashes series. Now, say English fans, it's payback time.
"The rivalry is enormous and it's true the English have been on the receiving end in other sports," he told TheFA.Com in an exclusive interview.
"Obviously in the dressing room I've been given a fair bit of stick about what might happen on Wednesday which gives the occasion added spice."
Schwarzer doesn't buy the argument that Oceania has done little to merit a guaranteed World Cup spot. He believes that with players like Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Brett Emerton in the Australian squad, his country would be more than a match for some of the middle-ranked nations.
"If you look at European qualifying games, even the group England are in, there are teams in there that you could ask the same questions about in terms of their right to be on the same stage. They are regarded as even smaller minnows than we are yet they get to play against the big European countries. We have a good track record over the last 18 months to two years against the top nations."
One result, in particular, stands out, Australia's victory over France in the last Confederations Cup. The French, world champions at the time, may have fielded a weakened team but the Aussies nevertheless prevailed 1-0 and they almost did it again in a 1-1 draw against a full-strength French side just before their World Cup playoff last year with Uruguay.
The second game against the French in Melbourne was conspicuous by its aggression and Schwarzer said the Australians would show the same competitive spirit on Wednesday.
"We're always a very competitive side but in a way we are in a no win situation. If we get a good result against England, people will say it's only a one-off friendly and wait till the World Cup comes along.
"Whatever team England puts out will be difficult for us and obviously we'd like to guage ourselves against the best they've got. Certainly playing against weakened sides takes a bit of the credit away but it was still a remarkable achievement to beat France and Brazil in the Confederations Cup especially when Brazil went on to win the World Cup."
With almost all his team-mates competing in Europe's major leagues, most of the Australians on Wednesday will be instantly recognisable. Gone are the days when the Aussies were only able to field a selection of part-timers with little or no top-flight experience.
"We're not going to be as easy to play against as people might think," said Schwarzer.
"The standard for a lot of our players has improved dramatically over the last couple of years. We're renowned for being a physical side but these days we have the players to play good football too."