The dire manner in which we limped out of the Asian Cup in January is still raw in my soul, but Arnie’s recent statement that he will be testing new blood in next month’s friendly with South Korea once again got my optimistic juices flowing…
So, putting aside nearly everyone who played at the Asian Cup, (and also Daniel Arzani and Martin Boyle, who won’t be pickable until later in the year), who should Arnie be looking at this time around?
Mitch Langerak has been reinvented with regular football in Japan and Paul Izzo has had a brilliant year in the A-League, but Danny Vukovic has also had a couple of breakout years in Belgium and rarely gets to play when Mat Ryan’s available. It'll be Vuka, unless he wants a holiday.
Trent Sainsbury hasn’t played much since the Asian Cup, so I reckon he’ll be captain. Aziz Behich also will play. Not sure about Milos Degenek but he’ll be desperate to make up for his last match – he doesn’t deserve to be defined by that back pass. Mat Jurman barely got a look in at the Asian Cup but is a proven performer. Rhyan Grant is another incumbent, but he’s had a big season for Sydney FC so probably needs a break.
Thomas Deng is a rusted on future Socceroo who can play right back or right centre back. Bailey Wright could get another chance, and Nat Atkinson and Harry Souttar have been mentioned in dispatches. Alex Gersbach continues to press his case, as does the rejuvenated Jason Davidson. I’d expect the defence to made up of those lot with a possible wild card in Harrison Delbridge from Melbourne City – I’ve been really impressed with him.
This is where it starts to get experimental. None of the big guns will be picked, with the possible exceptions of Jackson Irvine and Mass Luongo, who didn’t have huge match time at the Asian Cup, but are still young and likely to be team leaders going forward. Musti Amini and Awer Mabil might also fit this category, but have had busy seasons in Denmark.
Others likely to be considered will be Jimmy Jeggo, Riley McGree, Ajdin Hrustic
Callum Elder (Ipswich) might get a look in – has occasionally done well but would look better with more game time. Ditto Brad Inman and Denis Genreau.
A pacey option could include Brandon Borello, although doubtless Arnie would prefer him to be playing at a higher level. Another pacey option would be Craig Goodwin who has certainly looked the goods again towards the end of the season.
I’d love to have a look at Panos Armenakas, but it might be a little too soon for the Panathanaikos 20 yo. There has been a buzz about him for a few years now.
Apo Giannou did nothing wrong at the Asian Cup, with limited opportunities. He’ll be there unless he wants a rest. Andrew Nabbout, also, is due for a return after injury. He’s devastating when fit (which he clearly wasn't last outing). Chris Ikonimidis will certainly be picked if he wants to play.
I’m very keen to see Rene Piscopo play. He’s only playing Serie C in Italy but at 20 years old is worth a look.
It’s probably time to have another look at Adam Taggart who has started life well at Suwon Bluewings.
Ultimately, this will be one of those games where the result is almost irrelevant (“almost” in the sense that we NEVER want to lose). It is all about plumbing the depth of Australia’s talent pool and seeing how some young players perform on the bigger stage against international opposition.
Will they get the system? Will they follow instructions? Are they capable of making a contribution when we’re playing for points?
If I was picking the team (and leaving out most of the Asian Cup incumbents) I’d go with something like:
Deng, Sainsbury, Jurman, Behich
Mabil, Irvine, Ikonimidis
And a bench of Izzo, Langerak, Souttar, Degenek, Gersbach, Wright, Delbridge, Jeggo, Taggart, Armenakas, McGree, Piscopo with as many as possible of the young guns getting some sort of run.
To think we will also be welcoming back the likes of Mooy, Rogic, Ryan, Grant, Arzani, Boyle and Leckie later in the year (and maybe Milligan still to hold it all together) means that Arnie is likely to have a difficult job indeed picking his best XI.
What I’d love to see though is a real emphasis on speed and technical ability – the things a national coach can’t instil – can only focus and unleash.
The thought of Arzani, Boyle, Nabbout, Rogic, Mabil and Ikonimidis teaming up, supported by the likes of Mooy, Luongo and Irvine, and Rhyan Grant bombing forward on one side with Behich or even Jason Davidson on the left is something I’m really looking forward to at WCQ time.
In the meantime, I'm keen get a closer look at the young blokes preparing to steal their places.