What can we make from Postecoglou’s rookie-laden Socceroos squad?

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    Ange Postecoglou trimmed down his 30-man squad, scything off the fatty token call-ups, hewing away the gristly knobs, and leaving us with – injured Tom Rogic notwithstanding – the best team the nation can muster right now.

    This is the team set to face Iraq and the UAE later this month, both games crunch World Cup qualifiers. This isn’t some show squad; we expect it to shoulder the responsibility of cleanly imprinting fresh, bold footprints on our way to the big tourney, and the match against Iraq – to be played in Tehran – will be a very difficult trip.

    In February, Postecoglu said this:

    “I don’t think it’s a new faces kind of year… This year will be about hopefully consolidating a group of players and hopefully reaping the rewards of the hard work we’ve done so far,” he said.

    “That’s not to exclude anyone breaking through. We’ve still got six months until then. But I wouldn’t expect too many new faces.”

    So when Ange revealed his final squad a few days ago, the fact that five uncapped players were left in it was a surprise, to be sure. Rhyan Grant, Danny Vukovic, Riley McGree, Mustafa Amini, and James Jeggo all made the cut, and have been showered in hearty congratulations in the days since.

    Mustafa Amini playing for the Young Socceroos

    Grant and Vukovic have been two of A-League-leading Sydney FC’s best players this season, and fully deserve their call-ups. Amini and Jeggo have both made more than 25 appearances for their clubs, in the Danish and Austrian leagues and cups, respectively, and are certainly worth testing out.

    McGree is only 18, and has played just over half of Adelaide United’s matches this season. His selection severed the moorings of eyebrows around the country; he is a very handsome prospect, but in a squad already heavily populated with midfielders, one wonders just how much use he will be to the team over the next two competitive matches. Certainly Aaron Mooy, Massimo Luongo, Mile Jedinak, Mark Milligan, and Jackson Irvine would be ahead of McGree in the central midfielder ranks.

    Postecoglu also spoke late last year about how players hoping to earn a national call-up must focus on playing regularly.

    “The players know the position they’re in and we need our players to be playing regular football,” Postecoglou said.

    “It would help more if they were playing regular football, but again I can’t influence that – apart from selection.”

    With that in mind, and knowing that national team managers can never please everyone, selecting as they must based on form, playing time, and a decided-upon set of reliable and system-appropriate players, it will be interesting to see whether, for example, Aziz Behich starts over Brad Smith.

    Behich has been a permanent fixture at left back for Bursaspor in the Turkish league, playing the full 90 minutes in all but one game – where he was absent through injury – for them this season. Smith – who started the Socceroos’ last qualifier against Thailand – has featured in the Bournemouth starting XI just three times this season and – save for a four game spell where he was injured – has been unused, slouching on the bench for the vast majority of the other fixtures.

    If Postecoglou is true to his word, then Behich will start, and so he should. The fact that Grant is the only natural right back in the squad also bolsters hope that a new full back pairing might trot out in Tehran in a week. They have been such troublesome positions for the Socceroos lately, and Grant and Behich might well make them their own.

    There is also another aspect of the squad that has caught they eye or, more accurately, agonised the mind: Tomi Juric and Tim Cahill appear to be the only two strikers in the team. A front three of Matt Leckie, Robbie Kruse and Juric is a worryingly goal-shy lot, with just three goals, as a group, for Australia since the beginning of 2016.

    Robbie Kruse shoots for goal for the Socceroos against Thailand

    The nation is harrowingly short of strikers at the moment, and with only Jamie Maclaren or Alex Brosque excelling in the A-League as local products, this is a painful issue throbbing close to the forefront of the Australian football consciousness. Relying on the midfield to score goals is one thing, but the absence of Rogic makes this a much riskier prospect.

    Cahill cannot always provide a telling strike off the bench, and – as much as McGree’s call-up warms the heart – the palpitations currently afflicting Socceroos fans over a goal shortage might be eased had Maclaren, Brosque or even Adam Taggart been taken instead of the Adelaide youngster.

    As it stands, Australia are in third place in their Round 3 group. If that position is maintained and not improved upon, then the Roos will miss out on World Cup qualification at the earliest opportunity – only the top two teams automatically qualify, currently Japan and Saudi Arabia – and will have to play through a Fourth Round and a final Playoff Round to qualify, a much more difficult route.

    Japan and Saudi Arabia both play Thailand this month – who are bottom of the group – and will expect to pick up three points from those fixtures. Japan also play the UAE – who are behind Australia only on goal-difference – and could do the Socceroos a favour by beating them on the 24th, the day after we play Iraq. It’s all very tight, and the sloppy draw with Thailand last year will look an even worse result if the Socceroos are leap-frogged by the Omar Abdulrahmen-led UAE this month.

    Ange’s “no new faces” assertion has already been abandoned, mostly for the better. Whether he keeps to his “playing time” promise is yet to be seen. What is known, and it now looms like a colossal spectre on the horizon, is that these two qualifying matches are critical tests of the Roos’ World Cup ambitions. We’ll know by April whether or not this squad can pass them.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (42)

    • Roar Pro

      March 16th 2017 @ 8:09am
      Marty Gleason said | March 16th 2017 @ 8:09am | ! Report

      Thailand have played all their games away and are on the up. I think they’ll take points from the others.

      • March 16th 2017 @ 8:43am
        Fadida said | March 16th 2017 @ 8:43am | ! Report

        They were at home v Australia, but I agree, definitely a country on the rise

      • March 16th 2017 @ 1:16pm
        Nemesis said | March 16th 2017 @ 1:16pm | ! Report

        @Marty

        That’s absolutely not true. Did you bother to check, or just make it up?

        Australia, Thailand & Iraq have all played 2 home games; 3 away.
        Japan, Saudi Arabia & UAE have played 3 home; 2 away.

        So, of the top 4 teams in contention, Australia has the best draw with 3 home matches to play. The Middle East teams have historically been poor performers during WCQs played in Australia.

        • Roar Pro

          March 17th 2017 @ 12:58am
          Marty Gleason said | March 17th 2017 @ 12:58am | ! Report

          Fine, they have to play Australia’s key opposition at home still – they still have UAE and Saudi in Thailand.

    • March 16th 2017 @ 8:44am
      Fadida said | March 16th 2017 @ 8:44am | ! Report

      I can’t imagine Ange making wholesale changes for such a crucial game.

      Grant will possibly start, though I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Degenek or Milligan at RB in the away game. I’d be very surprised to see one of Jeggo or Amini start, shocked if both did.

      For me the big question marks remain over Kruse and Leckie. As 2/3 of the front line they have been very poor over the last 12 months. I would actually be prepping Leckie for RB in the future. Incredible pace, power and work rate but a total lack of end product. Kruse lacks the former but also has the latter

      I’d also play Mooy as the 6 instead of Jedinak, he’ll keep the ball much better than the captain, with Milligan beside and Luongo ahead in a midfield triangle

      • March 16th 2017 @ 2:30pm
        Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | March 16th 2017 @ 2:30pm | ! Report

        Agree Fad, Kruse and Leckie have indeed been ordinary. What are your thoughts on Burns being cut? I would have thought he should have been included in the squad. He has shown good technique and is direct when he comes on.

        • March 16th 2017 @ 5:02pm
          Fadida said | March 16th 2017 @ 5:02pm | ! Report

          Burns has had limited time off the bench in recent internationals. When called on he has looked very sharp, though final ball has been left wanting at times

      • Roar Rookie

        March 18th 2017 @ 10:57pm
        The Phantom Commissioner said | March 18th 2017 @ 10:57pm | ! Report

        Leckie has to be one the biggest disappointments in recent history, those swashbuckling Kewell-esque displays against the Chileans and the Dutch seem an eternity ago he absolutely terrorized their full backs. Kruse just got held back by injury and probably won’t hit the heights he could of, he was class Bayer Leverkusen don’t come calling you aren’t.

    • March 16th 2017 @ 9:50am
      Chris said | March 16th 2017 @ 9:50am | ! Report

      I always cringe when I see coaches making the statement “Players need to be playing regularly before being considered”.
      It depends on who the player is by the looks of some of Ange’s selection.
      He really needs to stop saying that.

      • March 16th 2017 @ 10:07am
        Midfielder said | March 16th 2017 @ 10:07am | ! Report

        agree

      • March 16th 2017 @ 10:58am
        Realfootball said | March 16th 2017 @ 10:58am | ! Report

        Agree. I have no idea why he keeps on saying this when he never acts on it. It undermines his credibility and opens him up to the charge of playing favourites.

    • March 16th 2017 @ 10:19am
      Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | March 16th 2017 @ 10:19am | ! Report

      I am simply amazed that Nathan Burns has been cut from the squad—just at a time when he was starting to show some real form.

    • March 16th 2017 @ 10:23am
      Midfielder said | March 16th 2017 @ 10:23am | ! Report

      Ange is in a somewhat difficult position if you compare to previous coaches…. he does not have a base of stars that are are so far in front of others …

      Dukes, Aloisi up front, Bresh, Harry, Viney, etc in fact from the 80’s when national sides have been chosen it was akin to the cricket or rugby teams sorta a large core of good players..Ange does not have that

      Arguably only Rogic [when in form] demands to be chosen all other position we have many players but not many who like say a Harry or Bresh … years of neglect in the 90’s to training has lead us here… those who blame Hal forget Hal started in 2005 so a 6 year old would only be 18 today… and it took Hal maybe 5 to 6 years to get its training systems even half decent and still a lot more needs doing.

      So my take we have more players of a certain quality, but no real stand out players ..

      • March 17th 2017 @ 8:14am
        j binnie said | March 17th 2017 @ 8:14am | ! Report

        Mid – Cannot really fathom the connection between the start of the HAL and the amount of “players available in the ’80’s”.
        Elsewhere ,on another blog site, there is a very highly respected journalist pushing the same argument using “facts” that are nothing if not mis-information.
        He tells us the National Curriculum was “released” in 2009 and it will be years before it will throw up players of quality.
        This is rubbish,the FFA commissioned one Robert Baan , a very experienced Dutch coach, to write a “curriculum” in 2007, which he did before “retiring” from the game in 2009 only to reappear as DoF in India , (writing a new curriculum) . Before he left Australia he would have been instrumental in employing another Dutch Coach ,Han Berger. to fill his erstwhile position.
        Berger set about “up dating” the 2 year old “curriculum” making much publicised “improvements” and then,,after consulting other youth development group Coerver,,Berger admitted he was finding it very hard to get the curriculum “up and working” in Australia. After 5 years he vacated his job at FFA and then turned up as Director of Football at Sydney FC.
        This all took place between the years 2007 and 2014, so the question still remains who helped to “make” those 1980’s stars you mention. Cheers jb.

        • Roar Guru

          March 17th 2017 @ 8:35am
          Ben of Phnom Penh said | March 17th 2017 @ 8:35am | ! Report

          The issue of 1st generation parents who received their football education in Europe and passed this onto their children, usually from a very early age, and the dilution of this education as 2nd & 3rd generations entered parenthood is a fascinating subject. The impact of this dilution on both home development, volunteer youth coach quality and NPL development capacity is a subject worthy of a thesis.

    • March 16th 2017 @ 11:03am
      Realfootball said | March 16th 2017 @ 11:03am | ! Report

      I would not be at all surprised if we don’t qualify for this World Cup. Asian qualifying is getting tougher, and this is a mediocre group of Australian players.

      Life goes on, however. It’s more important that the A League is expanded, the cap scrapped, and a commercial governance structure put in place.

      • March 16th 2017 @ 11:31am
        Midfielder said | March 16th 2017 @ 11:31am | ! Report

        agree 9999 to the power 9999 %

      • March 16th 2017 @ 4:49pm
        aladdin sane said | March 16th 2017 @ 4:49pm | ! Report

        Basically the same squad who won the asian cup

        • March 17th 2017 @ 6:33am
          punter said | March 17th 2017 @ 6:33am | ! Report

          Plus Mooy & Rogic.

          Please tell me in any other time in our history have we produced 3 midfielders so comfortable on the ball & able to create something out of nothing, like Mooy, Luongo & Roic. I have ben watching since 1974.

          • March 17th 2017 @ 8:28am
            j binnie said | March 17th 2017 @ 8:28am | ! Report

            Punter – You mention 3 young players and then go on to laud their ability to “create something out of nothing”.This is a dangerous onus to put on young shoulders for the results attained by the Socceroos in recent matches suggest their efforts ,if correct, are not meeting with much success when it comes to the main aim of the game ,scoring goals.
            The other thing to be considered is what it takes to make up a “successful midfield” ?
            The trio that got us to Germany in 1974 were three players, Rooney,Richards and Mackay, who, as a successful trio, were as different as chalk is to cheese. Cheers jb.

            • March 17th 2017 @ 9:43am
              punter said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:43am | ! Report

              I would like to say 3 things JB.

              1. Ray Richards was my hero in those days, very Souness like.
              2. I’m not talking about them being a combination, I’m talking about 3 players with the ability to play midfield & does so with poise, ball control & vision. We do not create too many players in the midfield with these attributes, yes Bresc, can’t think of too many more. Can they make it to the top, I hope so, will they make it the top, it’s certainly up to them for they have the skill, but do they have the attitude, mental capacity & luck.
              3. We are lacking in the front 3, there is no doubt there.

              • March 17th 2017 @ 2:08pm
                j binnie said | March 17th 2017 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

                Punter -Point (1) Ray Richards I class as a very good acquaintance of my wife and I when he played his football in Brisbane.
                What is not widely known about Ray is that he came to Australia as a goalkeeper, had one look at the then Latrobe goalkeeper,a very astute Horrie Clark, and like the larrikan that he was in those days,immediately told the manager he was a centre forward. Ray went on to be a very successful goal-scorer with both Latrobe and Hollandia ,but it was not until his move to Sydney and tie up with Rale Rasic, that he was converted into a strong, aggressive, no nonsense defending midfielder. a position in which he earned his international caps
                .In his time in Brisbane football he was the Ronaldo of the day,driving around in his white gull-wing Mercedes sports car.
                Sadly he was never replaced in Brisbane football of the time.

                Your other points- Sorry if I misunderstood but the players you mentioned have been playing as a unit in recent Socceroo games, hence my observations. Cheers jb.

              • March 17th 2017 @ 2:46pm
                punter said | March 17th 2017 @ 2:46pm | ! Report

                JB, nice story about Ray.

                My point being & you missed the first time, is that I can remember ever having 3 creative midfielders in Mooy, Luongo & Rogic all available.
                Yes they have all played in the same team, but it has not worked, I’m not talking of combination, I am saying we have for 1st time in history, 3 players that can play that creative attacking midfield role, can’t remember outside of Bresc, having such luxury of having a creative outlet from midfield, centrally.
                This was my point.

          • March 17th 2017 @ 8:33am
            Franko said | March 17th 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

            You ever see Bresciano, Grella and Culina in our midfield? The first two were regular starters in SerieA, the other Erivdese.

            Maybe not as creative, but could control the tempo and hold the ball all day long and ever so comfortably.

            • March 17th 2017 @ 9:46am
              punter said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:46am | ! Report

              Loved this combination, I am not talking about combination. I’m talking 3 talented midfield players, wit poise, vision, comfortable on the ball & can create something out of nothing, I am not talking of them as a combination.

              Grella to me was the star of the WC 06 for Australia, he made Neill look good.

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