The challenges of a COVID world gave Socceroos coach Graham Arnold plenty of headaches when it came to selecting his 31-man squad for next month’s World Cup qualifiers in Kuwait.
Arnold has included seven uncapped players and brought several players such as Nikita Rukavytsya, James Holland and Curtis Good back from the international wilderness for the matches against Kuwait, Taiwan, Nepal and Jordan.
While some of the new faces were already in Arnold’s plans, the unavailability of key stars Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic as well as Mitch Langerak’s shock international retirement left Arnold with a tough job to pick his squad for the national team’s first matches since November 2019.
Mooy, who hasn’t been with his family since moving to Chinese Super League club Shanghai Port in August, ruled himself out for personal reasons while Rogic is hoping to use the off-season to recover from a minor ankle injury before Celtic’s new European campaign begins.
Arnold understood the pair’s reasoning and said it wouldn’t be held against them for future squad announcements.
“To select this squad it was the hardest that I’ve had to do because everyone has personal decisions and personal reasons,” Arnold said.
“I had to speak, obviously, to every player to make sure that they were ready to come.
“The way the world is at the moment with the quarantine side of things and with COVID around, it’s down to the individual.
“It’s a very strong squad. We’ve got great depth in every position, and I’m excited about the players that are coming here.”
Melbourne City’s Connor Metcalfe is one of three potential debutants from the A-League along with Macarthur’s Denis Genreau and Central Coast defender Ruon Tongyik.
Metcalfe will be joined in the Middle East by Melbourne City teammates Jamie Maclaren and Good, leaving the A-League premiers without the key trio for their upcoming finals campaign.
Sydney FC, meanwhile, will have to chase a third consecutive championship without defenders Rhyan Grant, Ryan McGowan and goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne following their selection.
Tongyik, a 24-year-old ex-Australian under-23 international who nearly represented his native South Sudan in 2019, will miss the Mariners’ finals campaign after his call-up.
Western Sydney’s Mitchell Duke and Perth’s Chris Ikonomidis are the other A-League stars called up, with both given permission from both their clubs to leave early and join the Socceroos squad in Dubai this week.
As well as Metcalfe, Tongyik and Genreau, a quartet of overseas-based players could debut in the upcoming fixtures for Australia.
English-based duo Riley McGree and Kenneth Dougall as well as Fran Karacic and goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas are the other players in Arnold’s squad without a cap.
While Rogic and Mooy aren’t travelling, regular starters Mat Ryan, Jackson Irvine, Milos Degenek and Mathew Leckie are all named with Australia in the box seat to reach the next stage of qualification after four wins from their opening four matches.
The last of those games was over 550 days ago and Arnold said the excitement was tangible with less than 10 days to go until the clash with Kuwait on June 3 (4.30am AEST, June 4) at the Jaber Al-Hamed Stadium.
“We just can’t wait to get the Socceroos brand back on the field. We’re the highest-ranked team in the world that hasn’t played a game in 18 months,” he said.
“I just truly believe that when we get back on that pitch next week, the energy will be incredible and the boys will be out on the pitch, knowing they’re representing the country, more special than ever, because the viewers back at home have been starved of the Socceroos.”
Aziz Behich, Brendon Borello, Martin Boyle, Milos Degenek, Kenneth Dougall, Mitchell Duke, Denis Genreau, Apostolos Giannou, Curtis Good, Rhyan Grant, James Holland, Ajdin Hrustic, Chris Ikonomidis, Jackson Irvine, Fran Karacic, Mathew Leckie, Awer Mabil, Jamie Maclaren, Ryan McGowan, Riley McGree, Connor Metcalfe, Andrew Redmayne, Nikita Rukavytsya, Mat Ryan, Trent Sainsbury, Brad Smith, Harry Souttar, Adam Taggart, Lawrence Thomas, Ruon Tongyik, Danny Vukovic.