‘Siege mentality’: Arnold shakes up Socceroos before must-win qualifiers

Graham Arnold has shaken up his squad for the resumption of the Socceroos’ precarious World Cup qualification mission, with star midfielders Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic among nine new faces picked for the team’s must-win clashes against Vietnam and Oman.

While the return of Mooy and Rogic from injury is no great surprise, Arnold has made a number of shock selection moves in his 25-man squad. Uncapped A-League players Marco Tilio, Kye Rowles and Joel King, as well as the inexperienced Connor Metcalfe, have all been included.

Coach Graham Arnold has brought in a host of new faces for the Socceroos.Credit:Getty Images

Germany-based winger Brandon Borrello and Adelaide United’s left-sided attacker Craig Goodwin have also been handed recalls. Mainstay Awer Mabil has been dropped due to a lack of match minutes, having not played at all for his Danish club Midtjylland since Australia’s disappointing 1-1 draw with China in November, which left them with no more margin for error on the road to Qatar.

The spread of COVID-19 has forced Arnold’s hand to some degree, with several contenders either currently positive or yet to rebuild their match fitness after bouts with the illness. Others, like defenders Harry Souttar and Callum Elder, are injured.

“We’re picking this squad today but the fingers will be crossed all weekend, that no players go down with COVID – the players coming across from Europe and here in Australia, in the A-League,” Arnold said.

“They’re all challenges that we’ve got to get on with. I’ve picked the squad that I believe is strong, healthy and ready. And it’ll lead to more depth in the long run.”

Tom Rogic is back to his best for Celtic, which is great news for Australia.Credit:Getty

Tilio, Rowles, King and Metcalfe were all part of Arnold’s Olyroos squad in Tokyo last year, and have all been playing regularly for their clubs in the A-League – albeit with many fixtures over the Christmas-New Year period postponed due to COVID-19 cases.

“I know they can do great things. It’s more about consistency, and I’ve seen that this year with them,” Arnold said. “Marco gives you a complete X-factor, either if he starts or comes off the bench. He’s one of those players that Australia doesn’t have a lot of, that can change your game with one action. It’s exciting to bring these young boys in.”

There were some surprising exclusions, with Denis Genreau and Cameron Devlin, who are in terrific form for Toulouse and Heart of Midlothian respectively, not picked due to Arnold’s preference for other players in Australia’s deep pool of central midfielders.

“I’m loving the fact he’s over at Hearts and he’ll be playing 50 games this year,” Arnold said. “He’ll end up in the Socceroos. But at this moment in time … we’ve got some depth in that position.”

Mabil, Arnold said, has recently battled COVID and was contemplating leaving Midtjylland for more minutes elsewhere, having been completely frozen out of the first team in recent weeks.

Australia face Vietnam on Thursday night at Melbourne’s AAMI Park, which will be at close to capacity, before travelling to Oman for their second match of the window on February 1. The Socceroos are third in Group B, behind Saudi Arabia and Japan. They face both those teams in late March.

“We have everything in our own hands,” Arnold said.

“We have four games that we have to play between now and qualifying for Qatar, and I expect to win four games, and I expect us to go out there with more of a siege mentality. Obviously, the last game against China was disappointing, especially the result. But I expect a lot more than what we showed against China.

“We’ve got to get out there and, as I said, with that siege mentality, one game at a time, but with four games to go, win all four.”

Meanwhile, Arnold said he had spoken to Martin Boyle about reports the Hibernian forward was set to leave Scotland for a lucrative deal with Saudi Arabian club Al-Faisaly. Arnold said he had no concerns that such a transfer could lead to a drop in output from the 28-year-old, whose head has been turned by what has been described as a life-changing offer.

“From what I’ve seen of late in the last couple of years, Saudi Arabian football has come along leaps and bounds. One of their clubs just won the Asian Champions League for a reason, so it’s a good standard,” Arnold said.

“I have spoken to him about it. He loves Hibs … but sometimes for players 28 years of age, it starts getting around the financial side of things as well. No doubt he will do his own homework on the club, the resources, have a chat to the coach and make that final decision himself with Hibs.”


Aziz Behich, Brandon Borrello, Martin Boyle, Milos Degenek, Mitchell Duke, Craig Goodwin, Rhyan Grant, Ajdin Hrustic, Jackson Irvine, James Jeggo, Fran Karacic, Joel King, Mathew Leckie, Jamie Maclaren, Ryan McGowan, Riley McGree, Connor Metcalfe, Aaron Mooy, Andrew Redmayne (GK), Mathew Ryan (GK), Tom Rogic, Kye Rowles, Trent Sainsbury, Marco Tilio, Danny Vukovic (GK).

IN (from last international window): Brandon Borrello, Craig Goodwin, Joel King, Ryan McGowan, Connor Metcalfe, Aaron Mooy, Andrew Redmayne, Tom Rogic, Kye Rowles, Marco Tilio.

OUT: Kenny Dougall, Callum Elder, Denis Genreau, Awer Mabil, Andrew Nabbout, Nikita Rukavytsya, Harry Souttar, Gianni Stensness, Lawrence Thomas.

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