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The goal-scoring talisman has plenty left to offer on the pitch and within the dressing room, but don't expect the team to be built around him in Brazil

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By Iain Strachan

Australia held its collective breath early this week when Tim Cahill limped off for New York Red Bulls with a hamstring injury.

After two days of fretting the veteran was cleared of a dreaded tear, and is expected to return within two to three weeks, leaving him plenty of time to regain match sharpness ahead of the World Cup.

The prospect of Cahill being either in doubt for the tournament or, like fellow forward Robbie Kruse and centre-back Rhys Williams, ruled out altogether appeared to fill journalists and supporters alike with dread.

Were we right to despair at the prospect of heading to Brazil without the goal-scoring talisman?

Yes and no.

Purely in football terms, Cahill is still a potent weapon, as he demonstrated with two goals in the 4-3 friendly loss to Ecuador last month and by scoring the winner off the bench in a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica in November.

During the Socceroos' training sessions prior to the game at The Den, Ange Postecoglou could be heard instructing his players to get the ball into the box quickly and rely on Cahill getting there ahead of defenders.

Anyone who has watched his progression from all-action Millwall midfielder to hybrid forward at Everton knows this is good advice.

But is having a confirmed aerial threat in the team, a quality that can tempt players to knock it long, chip it up or spray rushed deliveries from wide positions, healthy for the long-term development of Postecoglou's revamped side?

The new coach made a statement about the team's lack of long-term reliance upon Cahill when he started the more mobile Mathew Leckie ahead of the Red Bulls man against Costa Rica in Sydney.

That's not to say a fit Cahill won't be first choice at the World Cup. You don't discard someone with his gifts and experience on a whim or merely to prove a point.

But, like all the remaining active members of the 'golden generation', the clock is ticking on Cahill's international career, which is unlikely to continue beyond the Asian Cup in January 2015.

Losing him for the World Cup would merely have accelerated the process of finding a suitable replacement, and might even have been played into Postecoglou's hands as he seeks to transform the team's style of play.

However, just as significant as being deprived of Cahill's services on the field would be losing his experience and leadership in the dressing room. The youngest members of Australia's 2014 World Cup squad will treat the hero of Kaiserslautern in 2006 with something approaching reverence, his standing as yet untarnished by the slide of others such as Lucas Neill into footballing mediocrity.

Cahill has been there, done it and got his face on the collectable Weetbix tin, and his know-how on the biggest stage in the football world will be vital in nursing his successors through what could be a punishing month or so in South America.  

For that reason alone, we should be thankful of a positive diagnosis from the medical staff at Red Bull Arena, and leave Ange with the decision of how best to employ his unique skill set.

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