In just over two weeks, the champions of Asia will face the champions of the world, with the Socceroos travelling to Kaiserslautern for a friendly match against Germany.
With no need to shake up a winning team, Ange Postecoglou will instead have a fairly easy ride when announcing his squad this week.
Out injured is Chris Herd, who didn’t kick a ball at the Asian Cup, and Robbie Kruse, the luckless forward out for the rest of the season with another injury. Mark Bresciano joins the absent list, the 35-year-old announcing his retirement last month.
Then there’s the case of Terry Antonis, who will likely miss out so he can lead the Olyroos in their pursuit of Rio 2016 qualification, which starts in Taiwan on March 23.
So that’s a minimum of four changes to ponder for the Socceroos manager, who has highlighted the defence as an area he wants to concentrate on.
Right back is an essential position to fill, with Herd out and Ivan Franjic yet plays any minutes since coming off injured in the Asian Cup final victory over South Korea. It could be a chance for Postecoglou to introduce two new right back options.
Postecoglou picked out Bailey Wright and Ryan McGowan as candidates, and given they’re in Europe as it is, and their clubs will take an international break, it makes sense to bring the World Cup members back into the fold.
There are calls for Australian-based players to be given a call-up, such as Joshua Risdon, Alex Gersbach and James Donachie. But I believe all three would be best served travelling with the Olyroos to Taiwan.
McGowan has played for Dundee United at right back in recent weeks, and Wright has made a successful return from injury to take his place in Preston North End’s defence. The Germany match comes too soon for Curtis Good, who is continuing his return from injury with Newcastle United Under-21s.
So for defence, it could simply be Herd and Franjic out, Wright and McGowan in. Franjic may even make the cut. Though given Aziz Behich’s fairly unconvincing displays in a Socceroos jersey, Brad Smith could also be an option if Postecoglou wants competition for Jason Davidson.
That leaves the third goalkeeping position. Mat Ryan is a certainty, as is his deputy Mitch Langerak. But should Postecoglou continue with Eugene Galekovic?
At 33, with no chance of getting game time and with the A-League still running – the FFA still needs to sort out international breaks domestically – it may be best for all parties to leave Galekovic with Adelaide as they attempt to get out of their mini rut. It would make more sense to bring in a younger keeper who can gain some valuable experience.
I would like to see Mark Birighitti included, who recently made a January move to Italian Serie B club AS Varese from the Newcastle Jets. The 23-year-old has a bright future.
Within the rest of the squad, every member from the Asian Cup squad that is available deserves to keep their spot, leaving just Kruse, Bresciano and Antonis to replace.
Up front will be Tim Cahill, who made his debut for Shanghai Shenhua on Sunday in a 6-2 victory, laying on an assist, and Tomi Juric. Could Postecoglou plump for another striker, further safeguarding Cahill’s eventual retirement?
Eli Babalj is finally getting game time alongside Trent Sainsbury at PEC Zwolle, following his loan move in January from AZ Alkmaar. It would surely be a nice, if unexpected, opportunity to get him back into the national setup after some time in the wilderness.
Kerem Bulut should make his way to the Socceroos setup soon, too. But he needs a lot more time settling back into first team football with Western Sydney Wanderers. It would be a surprise to see Josh Kennedy get a recall, while Adam Taggart, although scoring for fun with Fulham Under-21s, may be on a plane to Taiwan with Antonis.
Babalj would be a nice option for me, as when he starts playing regularly I can see him battling fiercely with Juric for a first team position.
Aaron Mooy is the most obvious candidate to come in for Antonis, the Melbourne City central midfielder unlucky to miss out on the Asian Cup, and continuing his solid performances in the A-League since not making the cut. He deserves a spot, especially after reinvigorating his career after it stagnated slightly at Western Sydney. Hopefully Postecoglou rewards him with a squad number.
Luke Brattan is another that deserves Socceroos recognition, but given the abundance of options Postecoglou has in defensive midfield, and the fact he no longer plays twin sixes, counts against the Brisbane Roar enforcer. He has to be included soon, though, and I’d be happy to see him replace one of the current holding options.
That leaves one position, that of a forward to challenge Mathew Leckie, Nathan Burns and Tommy Oar for the two wide forward roles. Of the current crop playing in Europe, Ben Halloran sticks out as the man to receive a recall.
The 22-year-old was in fine form heading into the German winter break, and has been involved in most of Fortuna Düsseldorf’s matches since the February restart. The World Cup member would be a decent replacement for Kruse.
Either way, there shouldn’t be too many surprises, with Postecoglou adamant that a strong squad will travel, and by that he means a similar make-up to the Asian Cup winning team.
Germany will be a huge ask on March 25, while Macedonia throws up something of an unknown later on March 30. It will be interesting to see how the team performs after taking the mantle of Asian champions, and both games will provide two differing tests of our progression on the world stage.