ROO CAN DO IT
There's a lot to like about Graham Arnold's Socceroos squad for the upcoming World Cup in Qatar, writes BILL WATT.
Well, Arnie certainly didn't step back from making the hard decisions when announcing his Socceroos World Cup squad this week, including axing his own son-in-law, central defender Trent Sainsbury.
Arnold also left out enigmatic midfielder Tom Rogic, in-form goalkeeper Mitch Langerak, veteran striker Adam Taggart, and two super talented youngsters in Daniel Arzani and Marco Tilio.
But, I reckon he just about got it right. The coach has picked a well balanced team with an eye to the future. Nine of the players selected were in the Olyroos squad for the Olympics in Tokyo last year, including Mitch Duke as an over-age player. Plus, the exciting attacking player Garang Kuol at 18, is the youngest ever Australian World Cup selection.
The selection of the eccentric Scotsman Jason Cummings, aka Cumdog, is brave and smart. This bloke could/should become a regular starter up front for the Roos into the future. His left foot is as sweet as any in the Australian game in the past decade or so, he pops up at the right time in the box, and his link up play is superior to his No. 9 rivals in the squad. Let's hope Arnie keeps his big boy's pants on and gives him a chance in Qatar. With this lad anything can happen.
Which brings me to a personally pleasing aspect of the squad. Having been born in Scotland I am delighted there will be three "Scottaroos" travelling to Qatar - Cummings, big central defender Harry Souttar and dynamic winger Martin Boyle. The broad Scots accents of the trio just might confuse the opposition slightly ... and hopefully our boys won't need a translator.
Not only are there three Scottish born players, but there are another six squad members who ply there trade with clubs in Bonny Scotland - Kye Rowles (Hearts), Aziz Behich (Dundee United), Nate Atkinson (Hearts), Keanu Baccus (St Mirren), Aaron Mooy (Celtic), and Cam Devlin (Hearts).
Plus at least another two have Scottish links. Hipster midfielder Jackson Irvine has played for Scottish clubs Celtic, Kilmarnock, Ross County and Hibs during his globetrotting career.
And, prolific Melbourne City striker Jamie Maclaren has not only played for Hibs but pulled on the famous Scottish royal blue jumper for two Under 18 internationals, before committing to birth country Australia.
The selection of Baccus and Devlin is interesting, although they are unlikely to start unless Mooy, Irvine or playmaking maestro Ajdin Hrustic are unable to take the field due to injury or suspension. The Scottish-based pair are absolute dynamos, who played together at the Western Sydney Wanderers Academy not that long ago. Given a chance as replacements, they have the potential to up the tempo and put some real sting in our midfield defence.
I hope Kuol is given a chance to run at the defences of all three of our round robin opponents. Despite being only 18, he fears absolutely no-one, as seen by his cameo for the A-League All Stars vs Barcelona earlier this year, and can create chaos in any tired defence with his tremendous speed and skill.
But, it is a veteran that I am tipping to be the Socceroos' player of the tourney ... Mathew Leckie. The 31-year-old winger is in fine form for Melbourne City, and has a history of producing his best on the biggest stage of all.
Before I finish up, let me address the players omitted by Arnie. Sainsbury has played little football lately and his quality recently for the Socceroos has drifted slightly compared to several years back.
Arzani and Tilio are both in fine form for their respective A-League clubs, but find themselves left out simply because the alternatives - the excitingly gifted Kuol and the consistently excellent Craig Goodwin - could not be overlooked.
Taggart just didn't produce the goods when given the opportunity against New Zealand a few weeks ago.
Japan-based goalkeeper Langerak was never going to displace captain Mat Ryan anyway, so would have been unlikely to play any football in Qatar even if selected.
Finally, Tom Rogic (one of my favourite Aussie footballers) had simply not played enough football recently to overcome any negativity surrounding his withdrawal from the Cup qualifying play-offs.
Go the Socceroos!