Arnold reveals 25-player squad for Oman and Japan World Cup qualifiers, talks Stensess and Jurić

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has revealed his 25-player squad for coming World Cup qualifiers against Oman and Japan, but the biggest questions may lie with two players that he couldn’t call up in Gianni Stensness and Deni Jurić.

As reported by JDL Media and others, Fran Karačić and Chris Ikonomidis have been called into Arnold’s squad for the coming fixtures, while Paul Izzo, Ryan Strain, Bailey Wright, and Brad Smith drop out from the unit that scored wins over China and Vietnam in the opening games of the final phase of AFC World Cup qualifying. Seattle Sounder defender Smith had been set to return, only to test positive for asymptomatic COVID just days ahead of the squad announcement and forced into withdrawing.

The Socceroos will be otherwise unchanged from the team that secured top spot in Group B of the second stage on AFC World Cup qualification after its opening matchdays; going clear of Saudi Arabia on goal difference after a comfortable 3-0 triumph over China and a more battling 1-0 win over a spirited Vietnam.

After being unable to negotiate a bio-bubble in Sydney or a venue in Japan, they will now “host” Oman at Qatar’s Khalifa International Stadium on Friday morning Australian time, before then flying out to face the Samurai Blue at Saitama Stadium on Tuesday evening. Football Australia is continuing in its efforts to negotiate a home quarantine period for Ikonomidis with the Victorian Government, with the winger otherwise set to undergo a two-week hotel quarantine period upon his return to Australia.

See Also: Socceroos equal World Cup qualifying record with gritty win over Vietnam

Ranked 78 in the world, the Omanis stole a late, smash-and-grab winner on the road to shock Japan in their opening game of the second phase of qualification, before going down 1-0 against the Saudis six days later. As part of their preparations for the coming window, coach Branko Ivanković’s side downed Nepal 7-2 on Monday. 

Ambushed by Al-Ahmar first time up, 26-in-the-world ranked Japan got their campaign to secure a seventh-straight trip to the World Cup back on track with a 1-0 win over China — although coach Hajime Moriyasu’s Samurai Blue didn’t make the most convincing of victors. 

“I feel that we’re in a great position in terms of mentality and culture,” Arnold said. “The boys can’t wait to get into camp. 

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“We can talk about the two games but at this moment in time, it’s all about the first game against Oman and getting ready for them and getting three points. 

“I’ve looked at Japan, of course, but I’m just focusing on Oman. It’s one game at a time and making sure that the boys are ready for that. We expect to go out against Oman here in an air-conditioned stadium and go out and get three points. 

“[Oman is] a typical, strong Middle Eastern team defensively. The block, they defend deep and they make it hard for the opposition to break down. They definitely have, that I see when I watch them, some weaknesses and I expect us to expose them. 

We’ve got ten games, it’s the third and fourth games. We’ve got off to a great start and I expect us to continue that through and move forward.”

Rhyan Grant returns to the Socceroos squad after netting his maiden international goal in his nation’s 1-0 win over Vietnam.
Image Credit: Football Australia

But absent from what Arnold likes to refer to the Socceroos ‘family’ when it begins to filter into Qatar from Sunday onwards will be Stensness and Jurić. 

Unexpectedly, it was revealed this week that the former, after representing New Zealand’s junior national teams as recently as Tokyo 2020, had made the shock decision to make the move back across the Tasman to represent the land of his birth at senior level. Turning down a senior call-up from senior Aotearoa boss Danny Hay for coming friendlies against Curaçao and Bahrain — a move the coach described as “a “kick in the guts” — the 22-year-old, who now plays as a centreback with Norweigan side Viking FK, later said the decision was one “from the heart.”

“Gianni, I spoke to him three days ago,” Arnold said. 

“We’re still waiting for the paperwork from FIFA for his clearance that he can play for Australia. The great thing, Gianni lives probably only 200-300 meters from my house in Sydney. I’ve caught up with him a number of times in Narrabeen and had a coffee with him when he was playing at the Mariners and had a chat about his future. 

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“It was always, obviously, he was committed to New Zealand for the Olympics because he had played in the qualifiers but as I said, it’s very fortunate for us that he lives in the same area as me, we’ve caught up and had those discussions about 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.”

But if Stensness is heading towards a senior debut in Green and Gold, Jurić may well be moving in the opposite direction. 

A former youth international for both Croatia and Australia, the 24-year-old striker recently told Croatian media that he wanted to represent Hrvatska at a senior international level, proclaiming that his heart “beats for Croatia”. 

See Also: Matildas set to host Brazil in Sydney after Football Australia and NSW Government formalise procedures

The brother of Socceroo and Macarthur FC striker Tomi, the younger Jurić recently earned a move to Croatian powers Dinamo Zagreb and has thus far made 11 appearances with two goals and assists across all the competitions in 2021-22 — starting and scoring against NK Slaven Belupo last week.

He wouldn’t be the first Australian-born player to make the switch to Croatia, either: Josip Šimunić famously switching allegiances from Australia to Croatia and going on to play over 100 games for his adopted homeland. Conversely, the returning Karačić represented Croatia at a junior international and had never even set foot in Australia before switching to the Green and Gold ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

“I’ve had the same conversation only five days ago with Deni Jurić,” Arnold explained. 

“Deni is doing great in Croatia and the coach of Croatia has spoken with him, the same as me. At the end of the day, it’s his decision of which badge he puts on his heart that is going to feel like the right badge. 

“I’ve never force anyone to do something they don’t really believe in, because if I do that they’re not going to feel comfortable in that shirt and they’re not going to give 100%.

“Deni’s injured at the moment. I had him on the list to select him for this squad but he’s injured at the moment with an ankle injury and he’s out for four weeks. Pretty much in those four weeks, I think Deni will decide which nation he wants to play for.

“ I would never force anyone into that type of decision because it really is a big discussion and they need to discuss that with their parents and their family and get them onside that this is the right decision to make.”

Socceroos 25-Player Squad | 4 – 12 October 2021 | FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 – AFC Asian Qualifiers – Road to Qatar

NameClub, Country‘A’ Caps (Goals)Junior Club
(Member Federation/Country)
Daniel ARZANILommel SK, Belgium6 (1)Mascot Vipers Futsal Club (Football NSW)
Aziz BEHICHGiresunspor, Turkey43 (2)Meadow Park SC (Football Victoria)
Martin BOYLEHibernian FC, Scotland8 (4)Lewis United FC/Montrose FC (Scotland)
Milos DEGENEKRed Star Belgrade, Serbia31 (1)Blacktown City FC (Football NSW)
Kenneth DOUGALLBlackpool FC, England3 (0)Samford Rangers FC (Football Queensland)
Mitchell DUKEFagiano Okayama, Japan11 (5)Liverpool Rangers SC (Football NSW)
Callum ELDERHull City AFC, England1 (0)Manly United FC (Football NSW)
Denis GENREAUToulouse FC, France1 (0)Brighton SC (Football Victoria)
Rhyan GRANTSydney FC, Australia16 (1)Canowindra Juniors/Bathurst 75 (Football NSW)
Ajdin HRUSTICEintracht Frankfurt, Germany9 (1)Heatherton United SC (Football Victoria)
Jackson IRVINEFC St. Pauli, Germany39 (6)Ringwood City SC (Football Victoria)
Chris IKONOMIDISMelbourne Victory, Australia14 (2)Cronulla RSL Stingrays FC (Football NSW)
James JEGGOAris Thessaloniki, Greece7 (0)Green Gully SC (Football Victoria)
Fran KARACICBrescia Calcio, Italy3 (1)NK Lokomotiva (Croatia)
Awer MABILFC Midtjylland, Denmark19 (5)Saint Augustines SC (Football South Australia)
Ryan MCGOWANKuwait SC, Kuwait21 (0)Para Hills Knights SC (Football South Australia)
Riley MCGREEBirmingham City FC, England5 (0)Gawler Eagles FC (Football South Australia)
Aaron MOOYShanghai Port FC, China PR45 (6)Carlingford Redbacks FC (Football NSW)
Tom ROGICCeltic FC, Scotland49 (9)Tuggeranong United FC (Capital Football)
Mathew RYAN (Gk)Real Sociedad, Spain63 (0)Blacktown City FC (Football NSW)
Trent SAINSBURYKV Kortrijk, Belgium52 (3)Armadale SC (Football West)
Harry SOUTTARStoke City FC, England7 (6)Brechin City Boys Club (Scotland)
Adam TAGGARTCerezo Osaka, Japan14 (6)ECU Joondalup SC (Football West)
Lawrence THOMAS (Gk)SønderjyskE Fodbold, Denmark1 (0)Winston Hills Bears FC (Football NSW)
Danny VUKOVIC (Gk)NEC Nijmegen, Netherlands4 (0)St Clair United SC (Football NSW)

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Header Image Credit: Football Australia/Gianni Stensness Instagram

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