Australia great Stan Lazaridis has called for rookie striker Eli Babalj to be fast-tracked into the national team as the Socceroos pick over the wreckage of their shock 2-1 loss to Jordan.
While insisting that axing a swathe of under-performers would be a fruitless exercise, Lazaradis, who amassed 60 caps for his country over 12 years, makes an exception for a player he has dubbed “Mark Viduka reborn”.
As the recriminations resound after the abject defeat in Amman against a team ranked 62 places below Australia in the FIFA rankings, Lazaridis called for a sense of proportion and also a call-up for the imposing former Melbourne Heart striker, who has thus far made just a single appearance for Red Star Belgrade since his transfer was ratified last month.
While insisting that Holger Osieck should largely persevere with the old guard – Lucas Neill, Tim Cahill, Sasa Ognenovski, Mark Bresciano and Luke Wilkshire - because they remain battle hardened, he said of 20-year-old Babalj: “I played for many years in the national team with Mark Viduka – and this kid reminds me a lot of him.
“To me, Eli is the sleeping giant who needs to be brought in – right now,” said the former West Adelaide, West Ham United, Birmingham City and Perth Glory wingback.
“He’s the one who will make an impact. I have no doubt about that. He will be our leading light for 10 years to come.
“I’d love to see him stuck up front alongside a Cahill or a Brett Holman. He has a great attitude, he has size and he’s different to what we have. He’s a like a young Mark Viduka. He could be Mark Viduka reborn.
“Even if we had beaten Jordan 6-0 I’d be saying the same thing about this kid.”
Lazaridis isn’t countenancing kneejerk reactions to a defeat which leaves Australia third in its qualifying group with just two points from three games and facing an ugly scrap to qualify for Brazil 2014.
“I wouldn’t be panicking at this stage. In football it’s tough to go out and beat every single team to order,” he said.
”The players are too professional not to respond from this and they will be hurting big time.
“I see this as a case of one bad performance. I think Holger will get the boys to regroup and we will put this behind us and still qualify for Brazil. I have no doubt of that.
“Until you get players who are better than those already there then there is no point in simply axing players.
“The way to do it is to slowly introduce new faces for their energy and enthusiasm but you do that with experienced heads around them to guide them. And that’s what the coach has been trying to do.
“When you play in the big games, you need the Lucas Neills because they have the know-how to deal with those occasions.
“People are asking now whether we will make the World Cup. Well, I have already bought my tickets to Brazil and we will be there.
“We have a lot of players who have produced and delivered over the years and you can count their bad games on one hand, so this is not the time for wholesale changes.
“We just haven’t produced the calibre of player over the last few years capable of out-muscling what we already have.
“As a national we seem to respond when the chips are down and, no disrespect to Jordan, we tend to struggle sometimes against the supposed lesser teams.”
Lazaradis warned that a couple more performances like the one in Amman would could not be tolerated, adding: “Certainly if this happens over the next couple of games then that’s another story.
“The problem Holger faces is that while people say ‘get rid of the old players’ there are not too many on the outside really pushing them.
“Look at the Harry Kewell situation, he’s not even playing right now but we still don’t have anybody better than him.”
Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni warned against complacency on Thursday as he recalled Keisuke Honda and Yuto Nagatomo after an injury spell for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Australia.