Squads have been increased by FIFA, and Arnie has slightly changed his shape and system. What will that mean for the 26 Socceroos who make the final cut for Qatar?
2022 Qatar World Cup Squads
- FIFA announced that each qualified nation can take 26 players to this year"s World Cup.
- Three of those players selected must be goalkeepers.
- Arnie will still have a hard job picking his best available team.
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With regards to squad selection, what Arnold dished up in the last two matches was significantly better than what we’d seen previously – all the more laudable considering the key players missing.
And having watched the game again, I think we also saw a somewhat different shape/system from Arnie’s usual drab 4231. I’d even suggest he had taken a close look at the system Ange uses at Celtic because there was a bit of that, against Peru in particular.
The Socceroos against Peru appeared to line up as a 433 with the key player being Jackson Irvine. With the ball, he moved up next to Hrustic to play as a second #10. Without the ball he dropped back next to Mooy to form two banks of four in a 442.
We even saw glimpses of Ange’s famous inverted fullbacks with Atkinson and Behich moving forward and centre coming out of defence.
Irvine had a fabulous game (despite losing possession a bit) and reminded me a lot of how Callum McGregor plays at Celtic. It takes extraordinary fitness to play this style and I note that Irvine was recently quoted as saying the fewer games per season at St Pauli (compared with England) meant more recovery time and that he’d rarely been so fit and injury free.
That was important because, based on recent performances, I thought Irvine was pretty much done as a Socceroo. Mind you, I still rate Denis Genreau and Riley McGree who could certainly play the same role.
The other player I thought almost done was Aaron Mooy, who also had an excellent game against Peru. He was constantly ticking the ball over, as he’s always done, but sitting a little deeper and picking his moments to play the ball forward.
I was surprised the Peruvians didn’t put more pressure on him because letting Mooy have time on the ball seemed to build his confidence and increase his impact throughout the match. He will have gained a bit of his old swagger back after that.
I guess what this means most fundamentally is that Arnie has grown and evolved as a coach. I’ve accused him in the past of being one dimensional and over-reliant on the same old faces, but the Peru match showed he is adaptable and doesn’t always pick his old mates.
Kye Rowles, for example, played the match of his career and will be impossible to drop. Nathaniel Atkinson, after a horror show against a very tough UAE opponent, also stood up and will benefit from that performance. Others also found form (Behich, Mabil, Duke).
So, looking ahead to Qatar… It was interesting that Arnie’s (almost) last statement at his post-match interview was that it was now a blank slate. No-one was guaranteed a place at the World Cup so all had to go back to their clubs and perform.
That said, it would be hard not to take all of those who featured in the Peru match and most of those in the squad. With the increase to 26 players in the World Cup squad (and five subs), that gives Arnie a bit of room for specialists and contingencies, but what I would expect to see is the following:
Used versus Peru
Atkinson, Karacic, Rowles, Wright, Behich, Goodwin
Mooy, Irvine, Hrustic
Boyle, Duke, McLaren, Mabil, Leckie
That’s 16 players so, barring injuries, ten spots left.
Trent Sainsbury, Tom Rogic and Harry Souttar will definitely be on the plane so that leaves seven more places.
One will be a goalkeeper. My choice would be Mark Birighitti as he has been in exceptional form for the last three years and is, in my opinion, the only Australian keeper (other than the retired Langerak) able to put genuine pressure on Maty Ryan.
Six spots left.
I suspect Genreau and McGree are certainties despite no minutes in the last two games. They will both have plenty of matches in their new seasons to impress, in two very strong leagues (the English Championship; French Ligue 1). There might be room for only one of Devlin, Jeggo, Luongo, Stensness or Dougall.
Four spots left and these, I hope, will all be X-factor players – attackers.
The obvious candidates are: Tilio, Taggart, Rukavytsya, D’Agostino, Cummings, Piscopo, Garang Kuol.
Taggart has been injured and hasn't played much lately. I would definitely take Jason Cummings. He’s been a revelation for the Mariners and (unlike McLaren) is able to make his own goals. Comes to receive the ball and can turn his man and shoot from anywhere. Also a super positive presence in the dressing room by all accounts.
Unfortunately, with the A-League season starting in October, Cummings (and Kuol) will have almost no time to press for a spot.
I would also take Tilio, which leaves two more places. Two of Daggers, Taggart, Ruka, Piscopo, Kuol or another midfielder. Goodwin’s versatility means there is less need to take another left back, and he usually plays wide midfield, so I’d make both my final choices attackers.
I’m guessing Daggers will win one of those spots and I’m just begging Arnie to take Garang Kuol, one of the most exciting young players we’ve seen in years. He has a goal for every 30-odd minutes he’s played and is exactly the type of wild card that could be critical off the bench. His pace, touch and vision are obvious but his finishing shows a class and maturity not seen in Australia for a very long time. He’s special and would really excite the fans.
That means a squad of:
GK: Ryan, Redmayne, Birighitti
D: Atkinson, Karacic, Rowles, Wright, Behich, Sainsbury, Souttar
M: Mooy, Irvine, Hrustic, McGree, Genreau, Rogic, Goodwin, Leckie
F: Boyle, Duke, McLaren, Mabil, Cummings, Tilio, D’Agostino, Kuol
That’s tough on the likes of Deng, Degenek, Luongo, Jeggo, Taggart, Ruka, Devlin, Stensness and Dougall, but you can’t take everyone.
If that was Arnie’s squad, and if he persists with and refines the new system, I would expect us to give a reasonable account of ourselves in what will be, once again, an extremely tough group.
There are some pretty reliable penalty takers in that lot also… if we get that far.
Adrian's books can be purchased at any good bookstore or through ebook alchemy. His first sci-fi novel will be published by Hague Publishing in 2022.
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