If Socceroos and Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer has his way, he and his trusty shin pads will be World Cup bound by March.
An Australian victory against Japan in the February 11 qualifier in Yokohama would virtually guarantee the Socceroos a place in South Africa in 2010.
A second consecutive finals berth for Schwarzer and the shin pads he has worn since he turned professional at age 19 could set the scene for a fairytale finish to his career.
But the 36-year-old keeper with Premier League side Fulham remains undecided on his future beyond 2010.
“The experiences that I had at the World Cup in Germany were unbelievable,” Schwarzer said.
“The reaction from Australia and seeing the growth of the game in Australia made me even more determined to try and emulate what we did in 2006 at the very least.
“I haven’t ruled anything out as yet and I’m really just concentrating on getting there first and foremost.
“We’re in a very good position in our group – three wins from three.
“We’ve got some very tough games coming up, in particular Japan next month, and I don’t want to get carried away.
“My goal is to qualify for the World Cup by March.”
The Socceroos are two points clear at the top of their qualifying group.
Should they reach the finals, Schwarzer’s kit bag is sure to contain the ageing shin pads he has used since his Marconi Stallions days.
“I still wear the very same pair,” Schwarzer said.
“People say it’s superstitious. I suppose you could look at it as being superstitious, but for me it’s never actually a superstitious thing.
“The longer it’s gone on . . . it’s become more of a case that I wanted to continue on and I wanted to end my career with them. They’ve come this far, why not go to the end?”
When he left Middlesbrough after 11 years to join Fulham last year, Schwarzer had become the Premier League’s longest-serving foreigner at one club.
Schwarzer said he was happy at Fulham, which sits mid-table after avoiding relegation last season.
“My family was ready to move on, I was ready to move on. It was just a case of finding the right move and Fulham for me has 100 per cent been the right move,” Schwarzer said.
Schwarzer is also active off the field – a fact recognised when he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to football and the community in the Australia Day Honours.
He is a special representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and set up the Schwarzer Charity Shield to donate funds to needy causes.
Schwarzer has also co-authored four books for children aged nine to 14.
The novels focus on 10-year-old Edward “Megs” Morrison, who moves from England to Australia and initially struggles to play soccer there, drawing on Schwarzer’s experiences after his family emigrated from Germany.
Schwarzer said he had grown more aware of how to use his position as a high-profile sportsman to help others with age and fatherhood – he and wife Paloma have a son, Julian (9), and a daughter, Amaya (7).
“There’s a lot of players who do a lot of work for different charities . . . and I think there are people that understand the position that we’re in and realise that you can make a difference,” Schwarzer said.
With so many strings to his bow, will he stay involved in football after he retires?
“I don’t see myself after playing football for such a long period of time and spending so much time away from the family to then finish playing and become a coach where you’re away even more,” he said.
“I think I’d find a happy medium where I’d possibly be involved in football somehow along the way, but maybe at a lower level and give kids an opportunity that maybe wouldn’t have an opportunity to be coached by somebody who’s been in the game for a long time.”