Ahead of a massive month for Australia, we start off our Confederations Cup coverage by looking at Ange Postecoglou’s 23 man Socceroo squad set to face Saudi Arabia in this week’s make or break World Cup Qualifier, next week’s glamour friendly with Brazil, before heading off to Russia for this summer’s main event. Martin Lowe assesses the inclusions and surprise exclusions, and whether they have enough in reserve to make June 2017 a month to remember.
Australia head into June in mixed form to say the least. As we’ll delve further into over the coming weeks of their Confederations Cup campaign, the current World Cup qualification campaign has been far from easy, despite remaining unbeaten in this current round robin stage. March’s victory against UAE puts them back on track to secure a place back in Russia next year, however an automatic place is well and truly in the balance when they take on their key rival for 2nd spot Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
Whether it be to remedy their current spate of draws that met their breakthrough against UAE, or as part of a longer term tactical shift from the coach, Australia have shifted to a very attacking 3421 formation ahead of the Confeds which initially stuttered in their away draw with Iraq before excelling against the Emiratis. Assuming Postecoglou sticks to his guns, here’s our assessment of his 23-man squad that is set for a grueling but potentially career defining month.
Mathew Ryan, Mitchell Langerak, Danny Vukovic
Ange Postecoglou broadly kept faith in Maty Ryan throughout his tumultuous days with Valencia, so it was quite ironic, that once he started gaining gametime and form with Genk on loan over the last 6 months, he was swiftly dropped for Mitchell Langerak against Iraq for their March qualifier. The Stuttgart keeper put in a solid display in Tehran, only to make way for Ryan when they returned home for the UAE clash. Ryan will probably get the nod again for the Saudi encounter, but Langerak for club and country is proving a more than adequate replacement if called upon.
The third keeper spot has been awarded to Danny Vukovic, the 32-year-old called up for the Socceroos’ for the first time, after playing a crucial part in Sydney’s historic A-League title season this last year. He takes the spot of Bournemouth’s Adam Federici who’s struggled for minutes in the Premier League this season (so no surprise here), while Brad Jones continues to be overlooked despite clinching the Dutch Eredivisie title with Feyenoord (given he’s been ignored by Postecoglou in the past, no surprise here either).
Trent Sainsbury, Ryan McGowan, Brad Smith, Baily Wright, Milos Degenek, Dylan McGowan, Aziz Behich
Postecoglou’s defensive selection suggests that he’ll continue to roll out the 3421 formation which was experimented with in March, given the number of central defenders compared to typical out and out right backs. In that vein, a back three of Degenek-Sainsbury-Wright will likely be first choice, while Brad Smith makes a case on the left of a lopsided midfield.
The recall of Ryan McGowan offers flexibility to an extent, as he can cover the right back slot (if they return to 4 at the back) or more likely the right side of the three man defence, while his brother Dylan is rewarded his first national team call up since his move to Europe with Pacos Ferreira was confirmed. Aziz Behich offers cover for Brad Smith on the left side.
Missing out, domestic gems Rhyan Grant and Josh Risdon stay at home, suggesting Postecoglou is happy with his more cautious, experienced right sided defenders. The new wing back system seemed to be set up perfectly for Sydney’s Grant, who has looked a real threat in the final third over the last year, however it reaffirms domestic fan beliefs that you need to move to Europe/Asia, if you expect to make a sustained dent on the national team setup.
Mile Jedinak, Mark Milligan, James Troisi, Massimo Luongo, Tom Rogic, Aaron Mooy, Jackson Irvine, Ajdin Hrustic
The heartbeat of the side, and the major contributing factor behind the formation shift in the last few months, has been Australia’s quality in depth within midfield. Postecoglou favourites Jedinak and Milligan will be tasked to hold, with the latter likely to miss out initially (unless called up to deputise in defence), with Aaron Mooy returning from suspension on the back of an incredible club season on loan at Huddersfield Town.
The attacking line supporting the lone front man will likely include Jackson Irvine, who was the Socceroos’ star man in March, the most adept in Postecoglou’s new look setup, alongside Celtic’s Tom Rogic who has hit the ground running since returning from injury. James Troisi who impressed in Rogic’s absence looks like he’ll drop out initially. The Melbourne Victory man, who looks to be returning to Europe over the summer will likely be joined by Asian Cup hero Massimo Luongo in reserve, who despite some pretty average domestic form of late with Queens Park Rangers, always ups his game for Australia, especially at home.
Ajdin Hrustic promises to be the squad’s wildcard in his first call up, within a selection that has little in the way of surprising omissions. Youngster Ryan McGree is one for the future, so wasn’t truly expected to make himself a regular just yet, while Matt McKay’s hopes, as a usual squad favourite of Postecoglou’s since their Brisbane days, look to have run out, due to injury and quality of the replacements available.
Tim Cahill, Robbie Kruse, Mathew Leckie, Tomi Juric, Jamie Maclaren
Tomi Juric will initially lead the line for Australia, who despite looking good in an off the ball capacity over the last two matches, continues to run out of luck in front of goal. The impact of Tim Cahill is lessening with age, but there’s no doubt that his expertise will be called upon at some point during the next month. The 37 year-old continues to be one of the strongest options at dead ball situations, anywhere in the World let alone just in Asia.
Matt Leckie is one of the few players to be almost guaranteed a starting spot under Postecoglou, but where may be the better question to ask. A right wing back role was his latest station in the last window, which may work against Saudi Arabia, where Australia expect to be on top, but a little more concerning on the back foot when they head off to Russia. The same dilemma can be put of Robbie Kruse on the left side, yet the wide forward hasn’t played any notable domestic football since severing his ties in China in April, and could be looking at a spell initially from the bench.
The final member of the squad, Jamie Maclaren is given another opportunity to impress after ineffectual displays against England and Thailand previously. The striker who has scored 40 goals in two seasons in Australia, is set to move to Germany with Darmstadt over the summer. He is preferred to Nathan Burns, who despite being a squad regular over the last two years, has rarely offered anything of note for the Socceroos and shouldn’t be surprised by his omission.
All in all the selection isn’t much of surprise, with the only weakness of note being at right back, especially in an attacking sense (Ivan Franjic in his pomp would be perfect about now). Each task over the next month will test Postecoglou’s squad to the brink, so it’s promising to see that this 23 offers greaterdepth and quality on paper above recent selections to mind. With a more defensive outlook expected after their qualifier this week, it’ll be interesting what can be gathered in their summer opener against Saudi Arabia this Thursday.