The countdown is on to this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup which will be held in June in France. For Australia’s Matildas, this will be their seventh-straight World Cup appearance.
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Ange Postecoglou put Australia on the path to regeneration and he is not turning back, with the Socceroos coach defending his decision to omit experienced defender Luke Wilkshire from his final World Cup squad.
Injuries decided the fate of striker Josh Kennedy and playmaker Tom Rogic, while goalkeeper Mark Birighitti was left out in favour of Mat Ryan, Mitch Langerak and Eugene Galekovic.
But by far the most shocking of the four exclusions from Postecoglou’s final 23-man squad was Wilkshire, whose elimination is likely to spell the end of his international career.
With 80 caps, the 32-year-old Wilkshire was the most experienced player in the squad and, aside from Matthew Spiranovic, the only defender with more than 10 international appearances.
Wilkshire, who was due to fly out of Brazil immediately, also had a strong showing in Monday’s warm-up match against Brazilian division two club Parana Clube.
Asked what ruled him out, Postecoglou was elusive.
“A whole range of things – balance of squad, individual, condition they’re in, how they respond to training,” he said on Tuesday.
“Was he unlucky? Yes, but so were others. Someone has to miss out.”
Without Wilkshire and minus Kennedy’s 37 caps, the squad loses the experience of almost 120 international appearances.
With an average age of 25.7, the Socceroos squad is among the five youngest at the 32-team tournament and, other than Algeria, is the least experienced with an average of 17 caps per player.
“I made decisions early on in terms of the experience question and part of that was regenerating the squad,” Postecoglou said.
“We’ve started on that course and we won’t change.
“The price you pay is experience, but this experience will be invaluable for some of the younger guys.”
With Ivan Franjic still recovering from a knock to his knee, the only other specialist right-back was Wilkshire.
But Postecoglou said his priority was to have more options further up the park.
“It’s no secret we’re light across the whole back four but at the same time we’re pretty happy with what we’ve got,” he said.
“I felt that in midfield and up front we needed some variations.”
Wilkshire and Kennedy, who scored the goal that got Australia to Brazil, both miss out on playing in a third consecutive World Cup.
Kennedy was set to line up in Monday’s clash but an ongoing back complaint flared up in training the previous day, opening the door for striker Adam Taggart, who scored in the 2-0 victory.
Kennedy and Rogic, whose persistent groin concern was apparent in his lacklustre performance on Monday, will return to Australia for treatment.
“I wanted to give Tommy every chance,” Postecoglou said.
“Yesterday’s match was a bit of a test to see if we could build him up and I think he knew in the first minute that it just wasn’t right.
“Josh was a question of timing.
“It could have been one week or two. With too much uncertainty, we had to make a decision.”
Postecoglou admitted he had taken a gamble on veteran Mark Bresciano’s back complaint.
The 34-year-old has been restricted to light duties since arriving in Brazil but is expected to begin training with the team in the next day or two.
With Rogic gone, Postecoglou says he’s counting on the experienced and composed Bresciano to provide the creative flare and be “the point of difference”.
“Will he play 90 minutes in all three games? Unlikely. But if he’s ready for the second game or even the third, it’s a handy asset to have,” Postecoglou said.
“It’s a punt worth taking.”
Birighitti will stay until the opening game against Chile on June 13 in the event that Langerak’s knee doesn’t hold up.