Fulham's stunning progress to the Europa League final has increased Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer's faith in the power of the underdog as he prepares for the World Cup — although he fears his national team, the Socceroos, might have already lost that status.
Schwarzer's unfashionable London club swept past European powers before losing last week's final to Atletico Madrid in extra time.
But Schwarzer's fear is that he has helped ensure that Australia is no longer considered a lightweight by steering the country to a second straight World Cup after a 32-year absence.
"We know it's going to be even probably more difficult than it was four years ago because of that little bit of the unknown factor has gone now after Germany," Schwarzer told The Associated Press.
"We like to go [about] our business quietly and really just focus on our own jobs at hand and let everyone do the talking, and maybe we can cause some surprises."
That's if decisions go Australia's way. The team was eliminated in the second round in 2006 by eventual champion Italy after a questionable late penalty call in extra time.
"You need that little bit of luck," Schwarzer said. "With Fulham, we know what it's like to be denied that little bit of luck [in the final], … and in 2006, we had a line call go against us with a penalty against Italy, and that's how quickly it can be over."
Coach Pim Verbeek has written off Australia's chances of winning the tournament, saying "we can surprise, but to win the World Cup, you need at least 20 very good players."
Schwarzer's focus is just advancing next month from Group C, which also includes Germany, Ghana and Serbia, and he isn't too concerned about providing a spectacle for fans back home who stay up through the night to watch the game.
"If you want entertainment they should hire some circus entertainers," he said. "If you look at all the major nations around the world, all the successful nations at any major tournament … — the likes of Italy, Germany, Greece in the Euros, England — [they] don't necessarily play the best style of football but have been successful over the years.
"None of these countries play football in the manner that people demand it to be played, but they get results, and the game is driven by results.
"I think a lot more people would be agitated and angry and disillusioned if their country, i.e. the Socceroos, didn't qualify for the next World Cup but played fantastic football, and we are sitting in the summer watching football from afar and not having a participation in it."
When Schwarzer returns from the World Cup, he will be hoping Fulham's successful European run doesn't prove to be a one-season wonder. He saw that happen with Middlesbrough after he lost the 2006 UEFA Cup final with the northeast English team.
"That's always a concern, I think, for the club as a whole after the success of the last two years in particular and the anticlimax of getting to the final and then losing it," Schwarzer said. "It happened at Middlesbrough. The manager left, and a lot of the players left. The rebuilding process really wasn't up to what it should have been, and the club continued on a downward spiral and are unfortunately now playing in the [second-tier League] Championship."
There are hopes chairman Mohamed Al Fayed will invest in Fulham's squad after selling Harrods department store for a reported $2.2 billion US.
"You always hope you can continue along the path of rebuilding and continue to strengthen the side; I think every club in the league would like that," Schwarzer said. "The players are realistic and are not expecting a [Roman] Abramovich-style investment when he first arrived at Chelsea or at Manchester City what the owners have done there.
"But I think the chairman has been unbelievable for the club. He has been a man of his word and has stuck with the club through thick and thin."
The 37-year-old Schwarzer has a year remaining on his Fulham contract and wants to open talks on an extension. At the same time, he is looking to the end of his career by helping Australia win the right to host the World Cup in 2018 or 2022.
Having been playing abroad when his homeland hosted the 2000 Olympics and 2003 rugby World Cup, Schwarzer would like to see the 24 FIFA voters award soccer's biggest event to Australia when they decide in December where the 2018 and 2022 tournaments will be held.
"[It has] never been held in the region before," Schwarzer said. "It will help football not only develop in Australia and grow in popularity even more so than it has in the last four or five years, but it will help with the development and enthusiasm for the game in the whole region. A lot of the region depends heavily on Australia."