Graham Arnold names Victory-less Socceroo squad for Asian Cup defence
The omission of any Melbourne Victory players was the biggest surprise in Graham Arnold's Asian Cup squad20 December 2018 | Stuart Thomas
After a four year reign as the champions of Asia, the 23 man Socceroo squad charged with the task of reclaiming the trophy in the UAE has been announced.
There are few shocks, yet the omissions of Thomas Deng, Tomi Juric, Craig Goodwin and Terry Antonis may surprise a few. Deng has had a stellar season with Victory and despite earning his first national cap against Kuwait earlier this year, the 21 year-old will now have to bide his time before making his next appearance in national colours.
Terry Antonis appeared a logical like-for-like replacement if Aaron Mooy was unavailable. However, the midfielder misses out, with Graham Arnold naming the Huddersfield man in the squad with representatives of the Socceroos backroom staff flying to the United Kingdom to give Mooy a second opinion on his injured knee.
Arnold holds hope that Mooy could recover in time for the knock-out phase of the competition; feeling that the group challenges of Jordan, Palestine and Syria should be easily handled by the remainder of the squad.
It is a strategy fraught with some danger, knowing that any delay in Mooy’s recovery will place pressure on the midfield stocks.
Mustafa Amini and Jackson Irvine loom as possible replacements should Mooy be unavailable and the flexibility to make a late change on tournament eve is no doubt a contingency plan into which Arnold has placed much thought.
Elsewhere in midfield, Tom Rogic and Massimo Luongo will take up the attacking positions.
Mat Ryan will once again be the number one man between the sticks, with Mitch Langerak and Danny Vukovic hoping for minutes during the group stage.
Defensively, there is something of a predictability about Arnold’s options. Trent Sainsbury, Aziz Behich, Josh Risdon and captain Mark Milligan appear the most likely starting four at the knockout stage.
The fact that Arnold has found space for his former Sydney FC lads Rhyan Grant, Alex Gersbach and Matt Jurman, at the expense of Deng, will no doubt ruffle a few feathers. Along with Milos Degenek they will be the defensive supporting cast.
Goodwin’s absence is understandable, with perhaps a more sustained and consistent period required before his claim demanded the removal of another.
However, Juric’s non-selection might signal the end for the 27 year-old striker. Arnold has deemed Juric’s 8 goals from 41 International appearances and none from his past 9 as unacceptable, especially going into such a vital tournament.
Indeed, it is up front where there does appear to be the most variation and potentially the most improvement in the squad. Awer Mabil, Chris Ikonomidis, Andrew Nabbout and Jamie Maclaren win spots to the UAE and the much discussed Martin Boyle, after his heroics on debut in Sydney, has obviously won over the manager.
As if to blend the old and the new, those four join Robbie Kruse and Matthew Leckie in the attacking stocks. Potentially, it presents a Socceroo side with Ikonomidis bombing down the right as Nabbout or Boyle do the same on the left. Maclaren appears the most likely option to work between them.
Alternatively, Ikonomidis could take up a more central position and Arnold may lean towards the more common set up of Kruse working the left side and Leckie sniffing around on the right.
The three group matches present Arnold with an opportunity to experiment with those combinations and, hopefully, have things well and truly sorted by the quarter-final stage.
It is the front third where a difference must be made. With Tim Cahill retired and the Leckie, Kruse, Juric combination producing just 22 goals from a collective 169 Socceroo appearances, it is easy to see where the core problem lies.
The World Cup in Russia once again proved the resilient mettle of the squad; the determination and spirit within the Australian national football team. It will be an attribute that Arnold calls upon from day one and something that Ange Postecoglou hand crafted during the successful Asian Cup campaign of 2015.
However, the goal drought needs to be addressed and if Arnold is as courageous as he can be frosty, Boyle, Mabil and Maclaren may hold the key to the Socceroos success.
It is a competent squad; perhaps as good as Australia has right now. Sure, accusations of selection favouritism based on a Sydney FC connection will be voiced, with Deng and Antonis undoubtedly unlucky and Jurman, Gersbach and Grant earning a ticket. Yet Arnold has assembled what he thinks is a squad capable of conquering the might of Japan, South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia - a task that pushed the Socceroos to the brink four years ago.
It stands to be the most intriguing of tournaments, an acid test of Arnold’s managerial capability and a tipping point for a number of players in the squad.
Goalkeepers: Mitch Langerak, Mat Ryan, Danny Vukovic
Defenders: Mark Milligan (capt), Aziz Behich, Milos Degenek, Alex Gersbach, Rhyan Grant, Matt Jurman, Josh Risdon, Trent Sainsbury
Midfielders: Mustafa Amini, Jackson Irvine, Massimo Luongo, Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic
Attackers: Martin Boyle, Chris Ikonomidis, Robbie Kruse, Mathew Leckie, Awer Mabil, Jamie Maclaren, Andrew Nabbout
socceroos, 2019 asian cup