Socceroos set for significant Saudi test as A-League Men’s trio returns

The Socceroos will be without Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy for their return to Australia but, in turn, will be bolstered by an attacking A-League Men triumvirate for November’s crucial World Cup qualifying fixtures. 

For the first time in over two years — 763 days, to be precise — Australia’s men will play a competitive fixture on home soil next Thursday when they take on Saudi Arabia at Parammata Stadium, before then jetting off to the UAE to face China on November 16. 

Jackson Irvine and Ajdin Hrustić (10) return for the Socceroos homecoming
Image Credit: Football Australia

A win by the Socceroos in the former fixture would see them leap back to the top of their group at its official halfway point and place them in a strong position to secure one of its two automatic qualification slots for Qatar 2022, whereas a loss, combined with heavy enough wins by Oman (against China) and Japan (against Vietnam), could theoretically see them fall as low as fourth. 

Likewise, a failure to pick up three points against China — who have managed just a single win over Vietnam during a campaign in which they, too, haven’t been able to play ‘home’ fixtures in their own borders — five days later would significantly ramp up the stakes for subsequent meetings with the group’s nominally stronger opposition. 

For their part, coach Hervé Renard’s Al-Suqour is undefeated across their opening four games and currently sit atop Group B: three points clear of the Socceroos after Arnold’s men went down 2-1 to Japan last month. 

Though Australia entered that game in Saitama riding an 11-game winning streak that had produced a dominant 36 goals for against just five conceded, the underlying cracks that that run of results had obfuscated came to the fore against coach Hajime Moriyasu’s side; the Blue Samurai midfield dominating their Australian counterparts in a performance that, on another day, would have produced a greater margin of victory.

See Also: Socceroos hit first bump on road to Qatar after record winning streak ended by Japan

See Also: Australia’s loss to Japan in World Cup qualifying a missed opportunity for Socceroos

Any righting of the ship, however, will have to be done without the services of Mooy, Rogic, and striker Adam Taggart, with the latter two ruled out through injury and the former forced back into quarantine in China before he can re-join club side Shanghai Port. 

“Tom Rogic, Aaron Mooy and Adam Taggart were unavailable for selection this window due to injury or quarantine, however, we have developed good depth in the Socceroos over the past few years and the squad that has been selected is one that we have full belief in to perform strongly for the Australian public,” said coach Graham Arnold. 

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With border restrictions both international and domestic easing, Melbourne City trio Andrew Nabbout, Mathew Leckie, and Jamie Maclaren have all received call-ups as part of that reservoir of depth, joining Sydney FC defender Rhyan Grant as the domestically-based representatives in the squad. 

Leckie and Maclaren were amongst the domestically-based players that, with Arnold’s blessing, had previously withdrawn from national-team consideration while Australia maintained its strict, two-week hotel quarantine regulations.

“I’d love to go and represent the country again,” Maclaren told JDL Media on Monday. “Be around the boys and coaching staff because it’s a great environment and one that’s positive about qualifying for the World Cup next year.

“[The Saudi fixture is] a huge game, it’s great to know that the Socceroos are playing at home and the last time they played at home was a great night in Canberra [Maclaren scored a hattrick in a 5-0 win over Nepal in that fixture in October 2019] and a moment I’ll always remember.”

See Also: As borders re-open, Jamie Maclaren would “love” a Socceroo return

34-year-old striker Nikita Rukavytsya, now with Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva, has also been called upon by Arnold for the first time in this phase of qualification to add further firepower.

Riley McGree, Fran Karačić, and Kenny Dougall have been named in Arnold’s 23-player squad for November’s international window
Image Credit: Football Australia

Former Wellington Phoenix and Central Coast Mariners utility Gianni Stensness, now with Norweigan side Viking FK, is also in the senior squad for the first time since making the switch from New Zealand’s junior sides and, in another first, Fran Karačić’s selection will allow him to make his first-ever visit to the nation of his father’s birth — the defender growing up in Croatia before switching his allegiance to the Green and Gold ahead of the 2018 World Cup. 

There is no place in the squad, though, for defensive midfielder Cameron Devlin, who has become a key cog in the midfield of Scottish side Hearts since signing from the A-League Men in the offseason. 

“The players selected for our upcoming FIFA window are brimming with excitement to return home and to play in front of Australian supporters, as well as their family and friends,” Arnold said. 

“The players will get so much energy from playing in front of a strong home crowd at a first-class Stadium.” 

“With border restrictions in some locations across the nation easing, we’ve been able to welcome some Australian-based players back into the Socceroos’ family this window. Mathew, Jamie, and Andrew have all been watching our campaign from afar over the past two months, and they are thrilled with the opportunity to re-join the squad and make an impact on our qualification campaign.”

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne City

One thought on “Socceroos set for significant Saudi test as A-League Men’s trio returns

  1. Pingback: Socceroos relishing Australian return as Johnson pushes states to come to the table for future matches | JDL MEDIA

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