Robertson, Irankunda call-ups provide glimpse of exciting Socceroos future
Manchester City teenager Alex Robertson is in line to become a third-generation Socceroo after being named in Graham Arnold’s squad for their World Cup homecoming series against Ecuador, while A-League excitement machine Nestory Irankunda will join the camp as a train-on player.
Arnold has selected 20 of the 26 players who were involved in Australia’s memorable run to the round of 16 in Qatar for the upcoming friendlies on March 24 in Sydney and in Melbourne four days later, which have been scheduled to give fans an opportunity to show their appreciation for the team’s historic exploits.
Alex Robertson and Nestory Irankunda have been handed their first Socceroos call-ups.Credit:Getty
Those fans will also be provided with a tantalising glimpse of the Socceroos’ future – not only through Arnold’s decision to pick Robertson, 19, as one of four uncapped players, but by exposing Irankunda to senior international football as a fitting reward for his awe-inspiring goalscoring burst for Adelaide United.
Irankunda, who turned 17 just last month, is to be a train-on player and not part of the official squad, but Arnold told reporters that he could still take the field against Ecuador.
The dynamic forward has scored seven goals since making his debut for the Reds, but it is the way he has scored them – all emphatic, powerful and well-measured finishes – which has people within Australian soccer so excited about his potential.
“He’s got these special qualities,” Arnold said. “The physique on him, the speed on him is exciting. He’s coming in for an experience, but that doesn’t rule out game time.
Melbourne City left-back Jordan Bos has impressed Graham Arnold.Credit:Getty
“And I want him to learn quickly … [so] that he sees what it takes from an Aaron Mooy or from a Jackson Irvine to get to the top, top level. I do believe that he will end up at that top level, but [this is] just to help him on his way.”
Robertson, meanwhile, has committed to playing for Australia, Arnold said – ending a four-way battle with England, Scotland and Peru for the allegiance of a talented young midfielder who was raised in Sydney, has family ties to the Socceroos, and is now on the cusp of breaking into Pep Guardiola’s first team at Man City.
His father, Mark, and grandfather, Alex, have both played for the national team, and while he is yet to make a senior appearance for City, he has been named in several of Guardiola’s match day squads of late.
“I’ve probably been talking to him for over 18 months. It was a matter of one step at a time,” Arnold said. “This time, when I called him and told him I wanted to pick him for the squad for these Ecuador games, straightaway it was ‘Arnie, I can’t wait.’
“The kid, I do believe, has aligned himself now with Australia, and I’m pretty sure once he puts a Socceroos shirt on and feels the emblem on his heart, there’s only one nation he will play for.
“I haven’t just picked him because he’s a talent … I wouldn’t be picking him if didn’t think he was on the edge already. He plays more as a No.8 – very similar to [Kevin] De Bruyne or [Ilkay] Gundogan who plays that type of role at Man City.
“When you’re playing and training with those type of players every week, he’s there for a reason, and that reason is obviously that Pep Guardiola rates him highly and sees what quality he’s got.”
The other new faces in the squad are gun Melbourne City left-back Jordan Bos – who Arnold said was the best Australian player he’d seen come through in that position since Scott Chipperfield – his teammate Aiden O’Neill, Adelaide United goalkeeper Joe Gauci.
Western Sydney Wanderers star Brandon Borrello, capped four times previously for the Socceroos, has also earned a recall on the back of his terrific A-League performances, as has Connor Metcalfe, who is also in form at German club St Pauli in a new wide attacking role.
Martin Boyle, Ajdin Hrustic, Jamie Maclaren and Mathew Leckie were part of Australia’s World Cup squad but miss out on this camp due to injury, while goalkeeper Danny Vukovic has retired from international duty. The only other player who was in Qatar but wasn’t selected is Joel King, who is back on loan at Sydney FC after struggling for game time with Odense BK in Denmark, and has seemingly been leapfrogged in the national pecking order by Bos.
“I’ve been impressed with him probably for a year and a half,” Arnold said of Bos. “I don’t think I’ve seen one like this one since Scott Chipperfield. I hate to put a name on it, but he’s a very, very similar player to Scotty.
“He’s got a great attacking skills. He can get high, get forward and get some good crosses in the box, and he’s physically a good specimen for what we need. I’m excited to see these guys, and I’ve said this publicly before – I believe in the A-League, I believe in Australian kids.”
AUSTRALIA’S 26-MAN SQUAD FOR ECUADOR SERIES
GOALKEEPERS: Mathew Ryan, Andrew Redmayne, Joe Gauci
DEFENDERS: Nathaniel Atkinson, Aziz Behich, Jordan Bos, Milos Degenek, Thomas Deng, Kye Rowles, Harry Souttar, Bailey Wright
MIDFIELDERS: Keanu Baccus, Cameron Devlin, Jackson Irvine, Riley McGree, Aaron Mooy, Aiden O’Neill, Alex Robertson
FORWARDS: Brandon Borrello, Jason Cummings, Mitchell Duke, Craig Goodwin, Garang Kuol, Awer Mabil, Connor Metcalfe, Marco Tilio
*Nestory Irankunda is a train-on player
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