After almost 2 years of derelict seclusion from Socceroos matches, passionate Australians will finally get a taste of international football once again as the national team seeks to secure its place in the 3rd round of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Whilst matches against minnow Asian nations Kuwait, Nepal, Chinese Taipei and Jordon appear as mere processions for the Socceroos, these final four matches of second round qualifying represent a crucial opportunity for Australia to maximise their ranking.
Manager Graham Arnold has made no mistake of the importance of these fixtures by selecting a 31-man squad to play four qualifying matches in under two weeks.
Headed by star goalkeeper Mat Ryan, Arnold has also handed call-ups to Midtjylland winger Awer Mabil and in-form striker Jamie Maclaren who has beaten the likes of Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski to lead all top divisions in the world with his tally of 25 goals in 2021.
However, the most pleasing aspect of Arnold’s announcement was the promotion of young talent, with no less than seven players firmly placing their cards on the table for a Socceroos debut.
One such player who will be vying for a debut is Melbourne City dynamo Connor Metcalfe who has experienced a meteoric rise since solidifying his place in City’s squad last season.
The 21 year-old Olyroo is likely to be a figurehead of the side that Arnold takes to the Olympics later this year as he receives deserved reward for his A-League form this season which has seen him start all 23 games for the Premiers whilst being handed the captain’s armband on occasion.
An imposing and athletic box-to-box midfielder, Metcalfe possesses an Ilkay Gündogan-esque nous for goal to complement his silky foot skills which would allow him to find space in a telephone box.
Another surprise call up to the squad is 24-year-old rejuvenated central defender Ruon Tongyik who’s provided defensive solidity for the Central Coast Mariners, skyrocketing into the heart of Graham Arnold’s defence with his physical yet composed aura whilst on the pitch.
Another beneficiary of the announcement is midfield livewire and potential debutant Riley McGree whose sporadic performances on loan at EFL Championship side Birmingham City earned him a 6-month extension on his loan deal.
Alongside forgotten 32-year-old regista James Holland, McGree will look to solidify the gaping place in midfield left by the retirements of former Socceroo captains Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan.
Competition for places in Arnold’s midfield will be rife as all indications suggest he will commit to his tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 system, thus leaving just two places in holding midfield to allow for the inclusion of a creative number 10.
Experienced campaigners Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogić and Massimo Luongo have been left out of the squad due to injury and COVID, thus leaving a youthful contingent to compete for places in Arnold’s midfield.
The short timeframe between games will allow for Eintracht Frankfurt prodigy Ajdin Hrustić and the aforementioned McGree to stake their claim for future selection after some eye-catching performances in Europe.
Tuesday’s announcement also serves as a timely reminder for the talent that will be on show for the Olyroos at the Olympics. 22-year-old centre-half Harry Souttar has been linked with moves to Premier League clubs whilst Denis Genreau continues to go from strength to strength in a holding midfield role with Macarthur FC.
This announcement comes at a fortuitous time for Genreau after a strong string of performances at the base of Macarthur’s midfield. The 22-year-old Melbourne City academy graduate will likely be tasked to demonstrate his qualities as a deep-lying playmaker next to Jackson Irvine or James Holland whilst Souttar has been widely tipped to partner either Trent Sainsbury or Milos Degenek in defence as the latter emerges from the high of winning a 3rd consecutive league title with Red Star Belgrade.
Despite the harrowing state of Australian football with regards to dwindling crowds and television ratings, Arnold’s announcement coupled with the APL’s groundbreaking TV rights announcement demonstrates that football fans should be excited about the forthcoming propositions which include attempting to qualify for a 5th consecutive FIFA World Cup and winning a medal at the Olympics.
The developing young core of the national team is sure to make Australians salivate, particularly when combined with the excitement of seeing Australian youngsters Caleb Watts and Tyrese Francois make their Premier League debuts for Southampton and Fulham respectively.
Watts and Francois will join luckless virtuoso Daniel Arzani in a 23-man Olyroo training squad led by Arnold’s technical assistant Gary van Egmond.
The young squad will undergo a rigorous training camp in Marbella followed by friendly matches aimed at preparing the group for an Olympic campaign.
Ultimately, Arnold’s optimistic eye to the future provides a wonderful sentiment to complement the array of young talent on show in the A-League this season. One must merely hope that this core can prove themselves on the international stage as they set the foundation for a bright future for the Australian national team.
Image credit – Getty