The prospect of a second COVID-19 wave across Australia is feeling more and more like a matter of when, not if, the further we plough through this pandemic together.
When I asked Roar readers to select the Socceroo squad they believed Graham Arnold should take into the 2021 qualifiers, I knew the responses would be varied.
It reflects perfectly on football as the ultimate game of opinions. With matches back-logging each and every day and a flurry of qualifying activity bound to define world football once the all clear is given by FIFA to recommence play, the choices Graham Arnold makes will need to be spot on.
Rather than a qualifying campaign, the Socceroos’ attempt to earn a spot in Qatar 2022 will feel more like a brisk tournament, where changes to the squad will be less likely considering the rapid frequency of the matches they will play.
Firstly, they will complete the second stage of qualifying, with games against Kuwait, Nepal, Chinese Taipei and Jordan before most likely cruising into phase three where two groups of six will compete to be one of the four countries that automatically advance to the finals.
Post COVID-19, the New Year stands to be a brilliant period of international play, with catch-up the underlying objective in all confederations and a golden prize awaiting the successful nations.
The Socceroos will need to be on song and humming right from the start and what follows is the squad that Roar readers selected as the best credentialled group to take on the challenges that 2021 will present.
With three spots open for the ‘keeper position, Mat Ryan was sure to be a lock. In fact 98.2 per cent of respondents made that a certainty.
The other two positions were hotly contested. Adam Federici and Andrew Redmayne did poll well, as did young tyro Tom Glover from Melbourne City. However, in the end, Danny Vukovic (56 per cent) and Mitch Langerak (49.5 per cent) secured their places in this hypothetical squad.
Just six defenders would ultimately earn selection in this group, despite the host of talent in the back third from which to choose.
There was no space at the back for Sunderland’s Bailey Wright, nor Cardiff City’s Brad Smith.
Readers appeared to steer away from some of the promising youthful defenders like Harrison Delbridge and Matthew Millar; sticking with some of the tried and true Socceroo performers.
Trent Sainsbury convinced 95.4 per cent of respondents that he should be one of the pillars at the back, while Aziz Behich (68.8 per cent), Harry Souttar (65.1 per cent) and Rhyan Grant (62.4 per cent) cruised into the squad after solid recent play in national colours.
The final two defenders with whom Roar readers decided to hitch their wagons were young Thomas Deng (55 per cent) from Urawa Red Diamonds and Josh Risdon (46.8per cent) from the A-League’s newest club Western United.
Selecting eight men from the list provided was to prove a challenge. Australia has a solid core group in the centre of the park with which to work and a nice mix of experience and promising young talent.
A-League players received little love. Andrew Nabbout had the support of just 22.2 per cent of respondents and James Troisi (11 per cent), Dimi Petratos (21.1 per cent), Josh Brillante (20.2 per cent) and Luke Brattan (16.5 per cent) also did not do enough to force their way into the squad.
Pohang Steelers’ Brandon O’Neill was the unlucky ninth man, just missing out. Aaron Mooy (99.1 per cent), Jackson Irvine (96.3 per cent), Tom Rogic (94.5 per cent) and Massimo Luongo (89.9 per cent) were logical certainties for the team.
Ajdin Hrustic (56.9 per cent), Mustafa Amini (48.6 per cent) and James Jeggo (46 per cent) also forced their way in, yet there was something of a surprise with Riley McGree earning 47.7 per cent of the respondents support to make the cut as the seventh highest selected midfielder.
It is a strong bunch and one that Arnold would love to have fit and raring to go as soon as qualifying resumes.
There was only space for six dedicated attacking players in the squad and leaving a number out proved difficult for readers.
Surprisingly, just 86.2 per cent supported the selection of K-League Golden Boot winner Adam Taggart, I’m not sure how much more he can do. There was no space for A-League stars Mitchell Duke (10.1 per cent), Craig Goodwin (17.4 per cent) or Perth Glory’s Chris Ikonomidis (25.7 per cent).
Robbie Kruse polled poorly at (6.4 per cent) with fans obviously feeling his international career is over and Olyroo hero Nick D’Agostino (11 per cent) also fell well short of selection.
Instead, Roar readers opted for Mathew Leckie (83.5 per cent) to continue his Socceroo journey, along with a now fit Daniel Arzani (72.5 per cent), Hibernian man Martin Boyle (71.6 per cent) and Awer Mabil (68.8 per cent), who impressed when given his chance in 2019.
Rather strangely, the man who couldn’t stop scoring until COVID-19 stalled his run, Jamie Maclaren (60.6 per cent), scrapped into the squad as the final attacking player selected.
I think some members of the Roar readership may well have been suffering from a little cabin fever when they left him out. If any striking forward deserves their Socceroo strip right now it is he.
So there it is, the 23 man squad that the readers of the Roar feel Graham Arnold should use to earn the Socceroos a place in Qatar.
Mathew Ryan, Mitch Langerak, Danny Vukovic, Trent Sainsbury, Josh Risdon, Thomas Deng, Aziz Behich, Rhyan Grant, Harry Souttar, Aaron Mooy, Jackson Irvine, Tom Rogic, Massimo Luongo, James Jeggo, Ajdin Hrustic, Mustafa Amini, Riley McGree, Adam Taggart, Mathew Leckie, Awer Mabil, Martin Boyle, Daniel Arzani, Jamie Maclaren.
Andrew Redmayne, Bailey Wright, Alex Gersbach, Jason Davidson, Kenneth Dougal, James Troisi, Terry Antonis, Brandon Borrello, Robbie Kruse, Apostolos Giannou, Chris Ikonomidis, Tomi Juric.