|By ADAM LUCIUS
Australia defender Michael Thwaite has challenged the team's youngsters to step up at December's East Asian Cup qualifiers and prove they should be involved in the Socceroos' 2014 World Cup campaign.
Coach Holger Osieck has been criticised for not bringing through a new generation of players ahead of Brazil 2014, but Thwaite believes the East Asian Cup qualifiers in Hong Kong are the perfect platform for fringe players to press their claims.
The majority of Australia's first-choice team will be absent, giving Osieck the chance to sift through the next in line.
"I think this tournament is a great thing for Australia," Thwaite said.
"There's been a bit of gap with the next generation of players coming through so it's important for them to step up and get more caps under their belt.
"That's what these camps are about... for the boss [Osieck] to see what personalities are out there and how they perform on the international stage.
"It's all about the next generation coming through."
The rookies have been left in no doubt about what is expected of them, with Osieck demanding the highest standards in every training session.
"Everyone is surprised at how intense it's been. The boss likes short sessions but with match-type intensity," Thwaite said of the three-day camp.
"I think he wants to show the young guys what is needed at this level. It's now up to them to perform."
Perth Glory's Thwaite includes himself among those needing to impress after seven caps in seven years.
He made the most of a rare opportunity in Socceroos colours in the friendly win over Korea on November 14, starting at left-back before excelling in central midfield.
That cool-headed performance had led to speculation Thwaite may be named captain for the trip to Hong Kong.
"The armband is something you might want to ask Holger, it's not for me to comment," he said.
"But this is the most fun I've ever had in national team set-up. It's given me a new vibe and energy."
Osieck will cull his squad from 24 to a final 20 after watching the Socceroos take on Sydney FC in a practice match on Wednesday.
His side need to top a sole group also including Guam, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei and North Korea in order to reach the finals of the competition in South Korea in July, 2013.