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“At a young age winning is not the most important thing… the important thing is to develop creative and skilled players with good confidence,” Arsene Wenger once said.
The Socceroos’ 2-0 defeat at the hands of Lionel Messi’s Argentina proves invaluable experience. For several who donned the green and gold jersey, this was their greatest on-field challenge yet and provides the clearest indication of where they stand collectively – and individually – against the world’s best.
Graham Arnold made it clear it was his desire to go better again come 2026. Rewarded with a four-year contract extension, Arnold’s off-field endeavour has been winning the hearts, minds, and, ultimately, the allegiance of young players. The strategy is long-term, and it involves the next generation who are yet to emerge.
Ultimately, Arnold harbours the sentiment that a new ‘Golden Generation’ is about to surface and they hold the keys to future success.
So, what are the talking points involving our youth?
In Beijing Arnold opted for an unusual 4-4-2 line-up that consisted of veterans Mitchell Duke and Jamie Maclaren featuring up front. Maclaren remained largely anonymous, unable to cash in on his usual poaching antics and was ultimately substituted at the break.
Duke was provided a golden chance early, however he, too, was unable to finish in the final third. Between the two strikers, only three goals in the last 15 Socceroos fixtures have been returned.
In February, I discussed some of the potential striker candidates of the future. With the exception of Viking FK’s Nick D’Agostino and Western United’s Noah Botic, the lack of playing time being accrued by young Australian strikers remains a serious concern. With the added issue of Jason Cummings’ move to India, the Australian striker stock remains shallow and the biggest void that needs to be filled.
If 2026 is indeed Arnold’s objective, time is running out to identify and blood the (young) men required to take up the responsibility.
Nathaniel Atkinson’s last two caps have involved playing on two of the most dangerous players on the planet: Messi and Kylian Mbappe. Whilst there is no shame in being shaded by either star figure, it is noticeable that the right edge needs greater assurance.
Ryan Strain’s introduction against Argentina was promising. Finishing his first season at St Mirren with 36 matches, four goals, and two assists, it perplexes some that this was only his second cap.
Another Scottish-based Aussie, 22-year-old Lewis Miller, returned from a long-term injury to round off Hibernian’s final matches of the season. The highly-regarded athlete and talent from NSW, Miller will stake a claim for Arnold’s attention.
The contributions of Leckie and Goodwin have been undeniably significant. However, with 2026 seeing both members likely to be enjoying their twilight years, it seems improbable that either will have a role in a revamped starting XI.
Three teenagers in Mohamed Toure (Stade de Reims), Garang Kuol (Newcastle United), and Nestory Irankunda (Adelaide United) are the forefront contenders to not only inherit the wide attacker duties, but dominate should their potential be truly unearthed.
Outside the attacking third, Jordan Bos on his full debut was industrious and frequently sought to create chances. Alessandro Circati – yet to be capped – poses as a strong prospect at centre-half. So too Nectarios Triantis, who recently signed with Sunderland A.F.C.
The Paris Games looms as an incredible opportunity for Australia to do the unthinkable: a medal finish in the world game. To not dare would go against the mantra that Graham Arnold has fought to instil, so expect qualification to be a top priority.
Amongst our Olyroos, the talents of Cameron Peupion, Ryan Teague, Joshua Rawlins, and Keegan Jelacic (all based in Europe) shape as probable senior call-ups in the near future, too. Worth noting is that in the years gone by Australian fans have been quick to note the lack of youth production in the domestic game.
Of the aforementioned, each young man walked the A-League pathway.
Olyroos coach Tony Vidmar shoulders a great deal of responsibility in ensuring that our U-23 ambitions are realised. With depth and competition amongst our youth increasing, Vidmar will have more weapons to play with going forward. Aussies should expect results – our sons are coming good.