Australia’s hopes of reaching a fifth straight World Cup have been dealt a huge blow with star midfielder Tom Rogic withdrawing from the Socceroos squad.
The 29-year-old, who is without a club after leaving Celtic having guided the Scottish giants to a 10th league title in the past 11 seasons, cited personal reasons as his reason to withdraw.
The move leaves coach Graham Arnold without one of his main attacking weapons heading into next week’s must-win Asian play-off against the United Arab Emirates in Qatar.
A victory in the June 7 (June 8 4am AEST) clash in Doha would set up a game against Peru the following week for a spot in November’s World Cup.
“My focus must now be on the players we have here in Qatar,” Arnold said.
“We have selected an extended squad of quality players and I believe that we will achieve something special for Australia over the next two weeks.”
Socceroos officials will not be calling up a replacement for Rogic, reducing the squad for the upcoming fixtures to 28 players.
Rogic’s withdrawal comes after he and several other leading players were all unavailable for a mixture of COVID-19, injury and personal reasons during the most recent Socceroos camp in March.
Missing several big names, the Socceroos suffered back-to-back defeats to Japan and Saudi Arabia in that window to miss out on automatic qualification and be forced into the play-offs.
The remainder of the Australian squad is assembling in Doha with the Socceroos to face Jordan in a friendly match on Wednesday (Thursday 4am AEST).
Arnold says he will be using the warm-up fixture to give gametime to players who haven’t featured in recent weeks as he looks to sharpen up his squad ahead of the play-offs.
The UAE meanwhile finalised their preparations with a 1-1 draw against African nation Gambia in Dubai on Monday.