New faces as Socceroos prepare for first matches since 2019
Australia’s bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will finally resume next month when they take on Kuwait with several new faces in Graham Arnold’s squad. After a hiatus of 550 days due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Socceroos return to action at the Jaber Al-Hamed Stadium in the early hours of 4 June sitting top of their qualifying group with a maximum of 12 points from four matches.
Arnold named seven uncapped players among his 31-strong squad for the upcoming matches against Kuwait, Taiwan, Nepal and Jordan to be played in the space of two weeks next month.
Melbourne City’s Connor Metcalfe is one of three new faces from the A-League along with Macarthur’s Denis Genreau and Central Coast defender Ruon Tongyik. Metcalfe is one of three players called up from the A-League premiers along with league top scorer Jamie Maclaren and defender Curtis Good, meaning City will be without the trio for this season’s finals.
Sydney FC 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.
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.
There is also a recall for in-form forward Nikita Rukavytsya, who has been scoring regularly in Israel for Maccabi Haifa, after last being involved with the Socceroos in November 2017.
While regulars such as Mat Ryan, Jackson Irvine, Milos Degenek and Mathew Leckie have been selected, there is no place for midfielder Aaron Mooy, who is absent. Arnold indicated some players were unavailable to take part in Australia’s first matches since November 2019 for a variety of reasons.
“Our extended 31 player squad will provide us with the flexibility and adaptability that we will need given we will play four matches in 12 days,” Arnold said. “It is no secret that we had originally targeted to name this squad last week, however some challenges with Covid, as well as some injuries and personal circumstances, have meant some players were ruled out of the final reckoning.”
Prior to the pandemic, the Socceroos won their first four games in this second round of Asian qualification for next year’s tournament in Qatar. The top two teams in Australia’s Group B advance to a third qualification round, consisting of two groups of six teams. From there, the top two teams from each group qualify for the World Cup.
The two third-placed teams proceed to a fourth round of qualifying, in which they play each other in a one-off match to decide who advances to an inter-confederation playoff.
Australia squad: 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.