Graham Arnold has revealed his 26-man World Cup squad for this month’s World Cup, confirming a dream call-up for 18-year-old sensation Garang Kuol and some bombshell omissions.
Arnold announced the squad from Qatar on Tuesday afternoon, with star midfielder Tom Rogic — considered by many as Australia’s best player — overlooked despite being widely tipped to return to the squad after his mysterious absence from June’s crunch qualifying playoffs.
Key defenders Kye Rowles and Harry Souttar were also selected despite only just returning from significant injuries but veteran centre back Trent Sainsbury, Arnold’s son-in-law and a former captain of the team, was another shock name missing.
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The phone call to Sainsbury was just one of the many agonising made by Arnold to overlooked players in recent days, along with the joyous ones to those who made the cut, including 17 who will be going to their first World Cup.
Scottish-based midfielders Keanu Baccus and Cameron Devlin were among the bolters included in squad along with Scottish-born striker Jason Cummings, who joined Central Coast teammate Kuol in booking a fairytale ticket to Qatar. Cult hero Cummings was the beneficiary as Japan-based veteran Adam Taggart was among the notable omissions.
The announcement confirmed earlier reports of the stunning snub of veteran goalkeeper Mitch Langerak, who was widely expected to be included — and perhaps even pressure Mat Ryan for the starting gig — after being coerced out of international retirement earlier this year.
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Langerak — Nagoya Grampus’ player of the year — missed out as the ‘Grey Wiggle’ Andrew Redmayne and Danny Vukovic were the other two keepers to make the squad.
Langerak returned to the international fold for the friendlies against New Zealand in September after discussions with Arnold but did not feature in the matches.
News of Langerak’s likely omission was earlier on Tuesday met with surprise on Twitter from ex-Socceroos Robert Cornthwaite and Tommy Oar, the latter seemingly accusing Arnold and goalkeeping coach John Crawley of giving “jobs for the boys”.
“It’s an absolute wind up,” Oar, who played 28 times for the Socceroos, wrote.
“Takes jobs for the boys to a whole new level. He’s (Langerak) been one of our best performing players consistently for the last five years and is one of the best blokes you’ll meet, respected by everyone.”
Arnold said the call to omit Langerak was made by Socceroos’ goalkeeping coach John Crawley.
“Bringing Mitch back (for the New Zealand friendlies), it was about a plan in case something happened to one of the other goalkeepers and at the end of the day, and John Crawley’s beliefs.
“We believe we’ve picked the three best goalkeepers for this World Cup and that’s what we’re sticking to.”
Arnold insisted the call to omit Rogic had nothing to do with him missing the late stages of the qualifying campaign due to personal reasons.
The 29-year-old has been slowly building form and fitness since moving to West Brom but Arnold favoured players who were “fit and ready”.
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“At the end of the day I only can pick two players for every position. We’ve obviously gone for Ajdin Hrustic and Riley McGree and again we need some flexibility and players that are extremely fit and ready,” Arnold said.
“Tommy’s been absolutely brilliant for Australian football and he will continue to be so but I have to make those decisions.”
On overlooking Sainsbury, Arnold revealed the 30-year-old, 58-cap veteran’s lack of playing time with Qatari side Al-Wakrah was decisive.
“It was a very, very difficult decision. I spoke to Trent about where he’s at at this moment in time. He hasn’t played for a number of weeks,” Arnold said.
“Overall I’ve gone for players like Harry Souttar, Kye Rowles who have done exceptionally well and continue to do exceptionally well. Trent was very understanding of the situation but it’s a decision that was very hard to make.”
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Kuol, 18, made a big statement with two assists off the bench in his latest outing for the Mariners and remarkably makes the Cup squad despite having never started a professional club match — convincing Arnold with some scintillating performances off the bench for the Mariners in recent weeks.
“Garang has really shown how he can change a game. I watched him with the Under 20s national team .. and I’ve watched what he can do individually,” Arnold said of Kuol, who has been signed up by Premier League club Newcastle United.
“He fit into the Socceroos family so well (for the New Zealand games) and really he’s a player that has absolutely zero fear when he goes out and he wants to entertain.
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“… When we talk about an impact player, a player who can do something different for us, someone can that can have a 1v1 individual action and have a moment that can change the course of the game, I think Garang can be that player.”
There will still be the opportunity for Arnold to make changes to his squad until the FIFA deadline of Tuesday, November 15 should injury strike.
The Socceroos face France in their first match in Qatar on Wednesday, November 23 (6am AEDT).
AUSTRALIA’S 26-MAN WORLD CUP SQUAD
Mat Ryan (capt)
Wednesday, November 23
Australia vs France, Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah, 6am
Saturday, November 26
Australia vs Tunisia, Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah, 9pm
Thursday, December 1
Australia vs Denmark, Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah, 2am