A host of veterans have been brought back into the green and gold, while one hardened warrior has been unceremoniously dumped.
Coach Graham Arnold’s latest Socceroos squad has delivered plenty of intrigue – but there are some clear winners and losers ahead of the four upcoming World Cup Qualifiers!
SEVEN uncapped guns, Mooy and Rogic missing in new-look Socceroos squad
Watch Every Match of The 2020/21 A-League Season Live & On-Demand on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14-Days Free Now >
Matt Ryan’s place as the Socceroos incumbent number one was under threat, given his lack of recent game time since his move from Brighton to Arsenal. But Mitch Langerak’s shock decision to retire from international duties has handed Ryan a reprieve – and means he remains likely to feature between the sticks for the Socceroos World Cup Qualifiers. An added boost? He’ll also probably keep the captain’s armband.
Langerak has been in staggering form in Japan, keeping nine-straight clean sheets to start the season – a J-League record – and had been widely tipped to challenge Ryan for the No. 1 jersey. But Langerak instead opted to remain with his family in Japan rather than travel to the Middle East, and also decided against travelling to next year’s World Cup.
Given the present uncertainties and specific challenges in the COVID-19 era, Mitch Langerak’s decision is completely understandable and admirable. And while it came as a shock to many, including Socceroos coach Graham Arnold, Ryan has said he believes his fellow gloveman has many years at the elite level ahead of him. Ryan has also tipped Langerak to eventually reverse his international retirement, once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
Another to benefit from Langerak’s decision is Sydney gloveman Andrew Redmayne, who will likely feature as the number two behind Ryan. But he’ll be challenged by 36-year-old goalkeeper Danny Vukovic, currently a free agent after leaving Belgian side Racing Genk following a successful stint. Perhaps the biggest winner is Lawrence Thomas, the former Melbourne Victory keeper who now represents Danish club SønderjyskE. While uncapped, he was in the senior squad back in 2019 – and now he might just have moved one step further up the pecking order.
Surprisingly, Olyroos keeper Tom Glover was not picked, despite his impressive season for newly-crowned A-League Premiers Melbourne City. But it would be unsurprising if Arnold opted to leave him out of the camp in order for him to continue playing regularly for City ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, where Glover is a near-certainty to feature between the sticks. Another man to lose out in the gloveman selection stakes was Macarthur’s Adam Federici.
Curtis Good’s international career – much like his club career – has been hampered by injury in the cruellest fashion. Making his Socceroos debut in 2014 against Ecuador, he was forced from the field in the second half after suffering an unfortunate hip injury. That injury ruled him out of the entire club season. And yet, such was his immense ability that he was still named in the provisional Socceroos squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Sadly it was not to be, with Good’s hip injury forcing him out of the tournament. Since then, a long-awaited second Socceroos cap has proved incredibly elusive.
After returning to Melbourne City in 2018 – the club where he began his professional career – Good has delivered on his talent and become one of the A-League’s finest talents.
Now he’s finally back in the Socceroos set-up. Given Australia will play four games in 14 days, squad rotation is certain. Good appears a strong chance of finally returning to the field in his national colours. It has been – simply – far too long.
Good isn’t the only man coming back from the cold. Defensive midfielder James Holland (32) hasn’t been in a national camp since the 2014 World Cup. Ryan McGowan (31) last played in 2017. Nikita Rukavytsya (33) last featured in 2018. It’s a good day to be a veteran.
Of all the people most happy to see the Socceroos back after more than 550 painful days of waiting, surely Graham Arnold is atop the list. Arnold has seen his World Cup qualifying plan slump into disarray, his Olympics preparations jumbled, and his long-term plans for the Socceroos’ future hampered by obstacle after obstacle. Now normality can finally resume. Arnold has a large squad at his disposal, and in a rare boost, many clubs allowed their players to depart to the Middle East prior to the international window opening on May 31st.
This allowed Arnold additional time to train with a large portion of the squad, and also allowed those players more time to acclimatise to the conditions in the Middle East. It is a significant bonus for Arnold and for the Socceroos – particularly given the lack of time which Arnold has spent with his side in recent years compared to Australia’s rivals. For example, the Socceroos’ first upcoming opponents Kuwait have played five matches in 2021 alone. Jordan have played 10 matches since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and will play another friendly in coming days. No team ranked above the Socceroos in the world has been forced to wait so long to return to action.
Every day counts, especially with the Olympics and World Cup looming large on the horizon. Arnold is just buzzing to get started.
Every midfielder selected
With Aaron Mooy (family reasons) and Tom Rogic (injury niggle) absent, there is a gaping hole for a midfielder to run the show and put his name up in lights.
None of the midfield corps (Kenneth Dougall, James Holland, Jackson Irvine, Ajdin Hrustic, Riley McGree, Denis Genreau and Connor Metcalfe) have particularly established reputations for playmaking against deep-set defences, or for being the key cog in possession with regards to dictating tempo and controlling the ball. Against teams which may opt to defend deeply and attempt to frustrate Australia’s offence – something we have seen time and again in the Asian arena – it may prove a difficult task for Arnie’s men to unpack.
On the other hand, the uncapped Denis Genreau and Connor Metcalfe, who have shouldered significant responsibility for their A-League sides this campaign, could be thrown into deep waters and handed playmaking duties. Sink or swim: either way, it’s a huge opportunity for that pair, as well as the other mids in the squad, to prove the creative abilities and ball-playing of Mooy and Rogic aren’t vital to Socceroos’ success. For Genreau, Metcalfe, and Riley McGree (another uncapped talent who can play out wide or as a playmaker), this camp could also go a long way towards ensuring their roles in the Olyroos’ XI for Tokyo.
It is worth remembering that Mooy can play as a deep-lying playmaker or in a more attacking position. His versatility means if a Socceroos midfielder proves themselves in the upcoming four matches, they might lock themselves into a starting position for the future.
Elder has enjoyed a career year with Hull City as the Tigers confirmed their promotion from League One to the Championship. The left back was a constant and highly consistent member of the Hull starting 11 – making a whopping 48 appearances this season – and earned himself a place in the competition’s Team of the Year.
But his season was soured by a cruel injury in the final game of the campaign when a heavy tackle forced him from the field and left him celebrating promotion in crutches. Scans revealed a knee ligament injury which subsequently ruled him out of the Socceroos squad. The 26-year-old has never been capped internationally, but was not only a lock to travel to the Middle East but also likely to feature in at least one match.
Brad Smith is the man most likely to benefit from Callum Elder’s absence in the Socceroos squad. The former Liverpool player has enjoyed a career resurgence in the MLS with the Seattle Sounders, and has continued his impressive run of form with a sizzling start to the new campaign. Never a renowned goal scorer, the left back recently ended a five-year goal drought – and has since added another two goals to make it three in seven matches!
His new-found attacking prowess – and particularly his late runs to the back post to get on the end of crosses – seemingly positions him as an ideal fullback under Arnold’s aggressive tactics. Ryan Grant has become an almost unshakeable fixture on the other flank with his tenacity, workrate, and attacking ability. If Arnold wants to be equally offensive on the left, Smith looms as the likeliest option. Indeed, Smith played the full 90 minutes in Australia’s most recent two matches, his 21st and 22nd appearances in the green and gold. Aziz Behich, plying his trade in Turkey, is the other left-back in the squad, and has a veritable bank vault of experience in the green and gold.
On the one hand, it’s a huge boost to the league that so many (10!) local talents are receiving national call-ups. Even the last-placed Newcastle Jets have three players included in the Select Under-23 squad playing in Spain while the Socceroos compete in the World Cup Qualifiers.
On the other hand it is a sucker punch to A-League fans, clubs, and to the league itself that so many top players will be pulling on the green and gold instead of their club colours during the A-League Finals. It is nothing short of ‘crazy’, as Melbourne City coach Patrick Kisnorbo called it, that the A-League Finals will not be paused during the international window.
City, with three players represented in the Socceroos squad, equal reigning champions Sydney FC as the clubs most impacted by the Socceroos camp.
For City, talismanic striker Jamie Maclaren and his record-breaking goal haul is almost irreplaceable. For a club desperately chasing its first ever A-League championship, the loss of three stars – the other two being Curtis Good and Connor Metcalfe – could prove fatal.
However, one club will be counting its lucky stars: Adelaide United. No Reds players were called up for national duty: not key attacker Craig Goodwin with seven goals and five assists from 16 games, not Ben Halloran or striker Tomi Juric or even potential bolter Al-Hassan Toure. Their odds of winning the lot must have just shortened considerably.
There will always be a tension between club and country, but after more than 550 days without international fixtures there is simply no need for the A-League to continue without its brightest stars on the field.
Left-sided central defenders are worth their weight in gold, and few Australians are quite as good as Wright. After a decade competing in England’s second and third tiers, the 28-year-old has built a reputation as a strong leader at the back. But after unfortunately missing promotion to the Championship with Sunderland this season, Wright was also a surprise snub for the Socceroos. Arnold named six central defenders, but Wright – who played at least one international each year since his 2014 debut – missed out.
The experienced Trent Sainsbury and Milos Degenek were obvious picks, as was Harry Souttar as Australia’s top defensive prospect for the next decade. Ryan McGowan and Curtis Good have been consistently solid across multiple seasons, while bolter Ruon Tongyik has enjoyed a breakout season for the Mariners. Someone had to go to make room for the uncapped youngster, and 24-cap Wright drew the short straw.