Ange Postecoglou has once again pulled a few surprise moves in the announcement of his 30-man squad for the vital World Cup qualifiers against Iraq and UAE.
There is always an expectation of adventure in his squads and Riley McGree is the major beneficiary this time round. While the usual suspects are there, and nobody would question their inclusion, it is great to see Postecoglou’s appreciation of the value of time spent around the national team for younger players.
In a recent interview, the manager expressed a concern that there had been a sense of stagnation about the squad. He conveyed a clear line of argument, suggesting the Socceroos hadn’t really advanced or developed as a unit since the Asian Cup victory in January 2015.
This squad is indicative of the plan to regenerate, something Postecoglou began early in his reign after trialling around 50 players before settling on his Asian Cup squad.
The inclusions of McGree, Awer Mabil and Mustafa Amini are further evidence of an eye on the future. It is a strategy employed by Postecoglou previously and needs to be continued.
With a few potential first-team players unavailable, the opportunity to expose younger and less experienced men to the national team environment and culture is too good to refuse.
Without Adam Federici and Tom Rogic due to injury and the omissions of Matthew Spiranovic, Jamie Maclaren, Josh Risdon and Alex Wilkinson, the manager has found scope to include members of what we all hope will be the next generation of Australian football.
The Asian Cup squad had the same tinge of Postecoglou’s faith in A-League players. Once again, with recalls to Rhys Williams, Matt McKay and James Troisi, local players have been recognised.
There is always a sense of freshness about his squads and that is important considering the more seasoned players need the challenge and energy that the raw youngsters provide.
With the majority of the squad playing abroad, it is an amazing image to imagine our boys in departure lounges all over the world waiting for flights.
As Massimo Luongo and Mile Jedinak board a plane in England, Milos Degenek and Nathan Burns will be doing the same thing in Japan and Trent Sainsbury will fly in from his new and rather glamorous home in Milan.
The full squad will, of course, be streamlined and not all thirty will make the trip, yet whoever does get the final nod will have much to share with teammates.
The stories and updates on careers must be incredible, as the players reunite after what has been months since the last fixture with Thailand.
Therein lies one of the greatest challenges faced by the Socceroos; as they reconvene, they then must seek some form of fluidity and cohesion, despite being an eclectic gathering of personalities and styles, reflective of the football they play at club level.
Wherever they are coming from this time around, let’s hope they make it here safe, sound and healthy as we need them all, more so than ever.
Sitting third in the group at the halfway stage isn’t a disaster, yet the draw in Thailand really hurt the campaign. That night I saw one of the stickiest pitches I have seen, with Socceroos constantly tripping over themselves and the ball.
The Thais played the conditions far better than the Aussies and in the end, the Socceroos were probably lucky to gain a point.
This first clash with Iraq on March 23, in the neutral territory of Tehran, means everything to this campaign.
A win isn’t hoped for, nor just a goal. It is essential; a must.
With only five days to prepare for the next match against the Emirates, the Socceroos will need to get home quickly and prepare for the second half of six of the most important points in the campaign.
Two wins would put things well on track. A win against the Iraqis and a draw against the Emirates wouldn’t be a disaster, but the full six will undoubtedly be what the manager expects from the final squad he selects.
Keeping in mind that old foes Japan await in August, early points will be vital. With the advantage of three home games in the return fixtures, the Socceroos have a small advantage with which to work.
I wrote previously about the campaign and crystal-balled the group stages back in January in ‘The Socceroos’ qualification campaign will be a walk in the park‘.
Written with the tongue firmly planted in the cheek, the number crunching led to angst as the permutations and complexity of different results created a myriad of potential outcomes.
Even without a loss, Australia could quite easily miss qualification due to the competitive nature of the group.
Only time will unveil our World Cup fate, yet the squad selected by Postecoglou is more than capable of getting what is a very difficult job done.
Hopefully, some of the younger and less experienced players get the chance to travel with the team and perhaps even get some game time over the next few months.
As we move forward in this campaign and in our planning for Russia and beyond, we will need Mabil, McGree, Amini and more.
There is no need to throw them to the wolves, yet Tim Cahill and other stalwarts won’t be around forever, despite Cahill’s defiance of age to this point.
As a collective, this is it, boys. It’s time to get it done.