AFTER years of waiting in the seemingly endless shadow of Mark Schwarzer, Australia's heir apparent goalkeeper, Adam Federici, will finally get his chance to prove himself as a worthy successor in the next five days.
Federici is set to be handed an unprecedented show of faith by coach Holger Osieck for tonight's friendly match against Malaysia in Canberra and Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Oman in Sydney, where he will make consecutive starts for the first time in his international career after Schwarzer suffered a back injury at the weekend.
The 26-year-old appears to have established himself ahead of Brad Jones, Nathan Coe and Eugene Galekovic in the long-term race to succeed Schwarzer. Osieck is almost certain to give the Nowra-raised product his biggest opportunity yet after Federici made a strong start to the season with English Championship side Reading.
The player himself is in no doubt he's ready to step up to the challenge. ''Yes, of course I'm ready to be an international goalkeeper. I've played consistently well at club level for a long time and I think I've played well when I've been given the chance to play for Australia,'' he told the Herald yesterday.
''I look forward to playing for my country every time I'm selected but by the same token I don't feel like I'm in a rush - I've got another 15 years to go at the top level and Mark can't play forever.''
Federici went to last year's World Cup but was omitted from the 2011 Asian Cup campaign to allow him to focus on Reading, a decision Federici had no objections to based on Schwarzer's immovable status.
''I know my position within the team. I'm not silly. I work extremely hard when I come into camp and I play well for my club and then whatever happens, happens,'' he said. ''I'm not going to get frustrated with my position because I know Mark has played six million games in the Premiership and another thousand for Australia. I know my role and if I play, it's just a great bonus.''
While Federici is aware that Reading have served him well, and vice versa, his national ambitions will require either a promotion push or a change of scenery.
''I'm contracted for another year and whilst I do enjoy playing for Reading, I also know that if I'm going to challenge the No.1 spot I need to be playing at a higher level,'' he said. ''But time is on my side. I've got many years left and I'm just enjoying playing consistently as I have in recent years.''
Osieck said he felt Federici deserved the opportunity to stake his claim and said he had no doubt his usual deputy was capable of filling the void created by Schwarzer's absence. ''I know about the quality of Adam and now he gets the opportunity. This time the circumstances are in his favour and it's never a risk to play him,'' Osieck said yesterday.
''He's a good boy and whenever he plays he's made a good impression. Now, times have changed [with Schwarzer's injury] and the time has come for him.''
Capped just four times since first being called into the senior squad in 2007, Federici insists he won't be be overawed by starting in a World Cup qualifier. ''I've been around the squad for a long time so while I'm pretty excited about it, it's not a big shock or a big deal when I step into the team, even for a match as important as this,'' he said. ''I'm used to the team and the team is used to me. It shouldn't feel anything but normal.''
Osieck said he would be looking to begin tonight's match with a strong line-up but conceded he had concerns over several members of his squad and he wouldn't be taking any chances ahead of the Oman clash.
''We'll definitely be taking this game as a very important preparation and I will [use it to] see the condition of the players,'' he said. ''They've all come from a different background, some have arrived very late, and travel is an issue for others. Some have a different load of training and playing in recent days, some have had injury and fitness [concerns], so I have a few things to consider regarding the team.''