Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has named a settled 25-man squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Oman and Japan, yet again calling upon his overseas legion to make up the majority of his team.
Arnold has gone back to the well, naming 23 of the 27 players who made up the squad that took down China and Vietnam in early September as they look to continue their 10-game winning run in the all-important Final Round of qualifiers.
However, due to Australia’s ongoing hotel quarantine requirements, Arnold has again been forced to turn towards overseas based individuals to make up much of his squad with only two A-League Mens players.
As announced on Friday, Melbourne Victory’s Chris Ikonomidis has returned to the squad joining Sydney FC’s Rhyan Grant — who has spent the past month training for Scottish Premier League side Hibernian between international windows — as the sole A-League Mens representatives.
Brescia’s Fran Karačić has also made a timely return to the national-team fold after Arnold confirmed fellow full-back Brad Smith will miss out after testing positive to COVID-19.
Smith is one of four omissions from the last squad including Paul Izzo, Bailey Wright and Ryan Strain.
Arnold described the selection process as “long” and “stressful” due to the current COVID-19 climate.
“It’s a long process, it’s a conversation with every individual” Arnold said.
“Brad Smith is not in the squad because he’s got COVID, he tested positive only two days ago and so he’s out of the squad for those reasons,
“Players have to get tested so it’s quite stressful and even though you select the squad players are coming in and have to wait for their results and you have to wait for it to be a negative until you can actually see them,
“As I said, it’s a much longer process because you have to speak to every player and make sure they’re okay and that they’re willing to come. I don’t want to say this the wrong way, but the overseas-based boys at this moment in time have more flexibility in life and have sports exemptions when they get back to their countries and they get tested and off they go back to their job or back to training,
“For the boys in Australia, it’s taken a special thing like Rhyan Grant has done where he’s stayed away in between camps and been able to train at Hibs (Hibernian),
“Every individual has their own choice and for a lot of them, a 14 day quarantine when they get back to Australia is, I believe, not much fun.”
After declaring his intentions to represent Australia instead of New Zealand, Arnold also confirmed midfielder Gianni Stensness is on his radar for future selections — while also remaining hopeful that striker Deni Juric, who was initially on course to be selected for the upcoming qualifiers, will make a similar decision about his international future having been courted by Croatia.
“He was always committed to New Zealand for the Olympics because he had played for them in Qualifiers,” Arnold said.
“We’ve had those discussions about him playing for Australia and he’s chosen to play for Australia so we’re just waiting for the paperwork from FIFA and then we can bring him into the squad,
“The coach of Croatia has spoken to Deni, the same as I have spoken with Deni and at the end of the day it’s his decision,
“I’d never force anyone to do something that they don’t really believe in because if I do that then they won’t feel comfortable in that shirt,
“I had him on the list to select him for this squad, he’s injured at the moment with an ankle injury and he’s out for four weeks,
“In those four weeks, I think Deni will decide which nation he wants to play for.”
Heading into their upcoming qualifiers, the Socceroos currently sit on top of Group B on goal difference ahead of Saudi Arabia and currently hold respective three-point gaps on both of next week’s opponents who sit in third and fourth.
Football Australia are also confident the Socceroos’ clash against Oman will be their final home game ‘away from home’, with the hope that the Matildas friendly series against Brazil in Sydney later this month will help pave the way for Arnold’s side to play the remainder of their qualifiers in Sydney.
The Socceroos will play host to Saudi Arabia on November 11, which if approved by the New South Wales Government will be their first clash on home soil since October 2019.
Goalkeepers: Mathew Ryan, Danny Vukovic, Lawrence Thomas
Defenders: Aziz Behich, Milos Degenek, Callum Elder, Rhyan Grant, Fran Karačić, Ryan McGowan, Trent Sainsbury, Harry Souttar
Midfielders: Kenneth Dougall, Denis Genreau, Ajdin Hrustic, Jackson Irvine, James Jeggo, Riley McGree, Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic
Forwards: Daniel Arzani, Martin Boyle, Mitchell Duke, Chris Ikonomidis, Awer Mabil, Adam Taggart
Australia vs Oman
Date: Friday, 8 October 2021
Venue: Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar
Kick-off: 5.30am (AEDT)
Japan vs Australia
Date: Tuesday, 12 October 2021
Venue: Saitama Stadium, Saitama, Japan
Kick-off: 9:14pm (AEDT)