It’s official – Bert van Marwijk has finalised his 23-man squad to take on France, Denmark and Peru at the FIFA World Cup.
With Jamie Maclaren’s inclusion, as well as three Hyundai A-League players booking their ticket to Russia – Josh Risdon, Dimitri Petratos and Daniel Arzani – it leaves the Caltex Socceroos with a balanced squad and a host of attacking and midfield options to push for a top two spot in Group C.
The Australian squad features three goalkeepers, seven defenders, six midfielders, and seven attackers, but it is the versatility of so many of those 23 players selected that ensures van Marwijk has options both for his starting XI and off the bench.
Here’s a look at the 23-man squad, broken down by positions …
The options: Mathew Ryan, Brad Jones, Danny Vukovic
The XI puzzle:
Maty Ryan played the full game against the Czech Republic on Friday, including making a couple of vital interventions as the opposition had a few early chances, and pulling off a point-blank 83rdminute save to keep his goal intact.
Ryan has come off a stellar season with Brighton and Hove Albion in the English Premier League but still has to do battle with both Brad Jones and Danny Vukovic for the No.1 spot against France and beyond in Russia.
Both Jones and Vukovic played 45 minutes each in the March friendly against Colombia, a 0-0 draw, and are still in the frame to start game one in Kazan.
Jones, the No.1 for club side Feyenoord, and Vukovic, who earned the player of the season gong for KRC Genk in his debut season with the club, are also in fine form.
The options: Josh Risdon, Milos Degenek; Mark Milligan, Matthew Jurman, Trent Sainsbury; Aziz Behich, James Meredith
The XI puzzle:
This is the first part of the pitch where player versatility opens up options for van Marwijk, with only Josh Risdon (right back), Matthew Jurman, Trent Sainsbury (both centre backs), Aziz Behich and James Meredith (both left backs) specialists in one position.
Both Mark Milligan and Milos Degenek are players who can play in the middle of a back four, or on the right of defence. This was evidenced by Milligan, who can also play as a holding midfielder, when he played at right back during World Cup qualifying against a then van Marwijk-coached Saudi Arabia. Milligan also played at right back in the second half of van Marwijk’s first friendly in charge of the Caltex Socceroos against Norway.
Degenek too is adaptable and capable of playing in central defence, holding midfield or at fullback. And he was the man to replace Risdon at right back in the closing stages of the 4-0 win over the Czech Republic.
During that Czech win, both Risdon and Sainsbury earned praise, while Behich has played every minute of the van Marwijk era to date.
The options: Mile Jedinak (c), Aaron Mooy, Massimo Luongo; Jackson Irvine, Tom Rogic, Dimitri Petratos
The XI puzzle:
There are six players to go into three positions in the clearest battle for XI spots out of anywhere on the pitch for the Caltex Socceroos.
Aaron Mooy and Massimo Luongo were the duo to start against the Czech Republic, while van Marwijk has also tested a holding duo of Mile Jedinak alongside Luongo (against Colombia), and Jedinak alongside Mooy (against Norway).
This means there are three players – Tom Rogic, Jackson Irvine and Dimitri Petratos – in competition for the starting No.10 position, with all offering completely differing skill sets.
Van Marwijk singled out Rogic as the ‘free player’ his team was hoping to get on the ball against the Czech Republic, and the Celtic wizard has the game-breaking qualities to run with the ball at his feet in tight areas and pick out defence-splitting passes. Rogic also has a proven knack for goals, netting eight in all competitions at club level this season.
But both Irvine and Petratos are alternative options for van Marwijk, with Irvine’s forward running, willingness to press the ball and aerial ability a major strength considering the context of the match. Irvine can also play in a deeper midfield role, while Petratos’ technique and versatility means the Newcastle Jets man can play behind the striker or on the left and right wing – as he did against Norway in March.
The options: Tim Cahill, Tomi Juric, Jamie Maclaren; Andrew Nabbout, Mathew Leckie, Robbie Kruse, Daniel Arzani
The XI puzzle:
Jamie Maclaren’s inclusion in the final 23-man squad means van Marwijk has a total of four No.9s to pick from – three of them specialist strikers.
Caltex Socceroos all-time record goalscorer Tim Cahill and Tomi Juric are the other two who can lead the line, while Andrew Nabbout has also emerged as a major contender for the starting striker role.
Nabbout was the man up front against Norway and the Czech Republic, while the former Hyundai A-League ace also started on the left wing against Colombia in March when Juric was in the central attacking role.
This means Nabbout has the real point-of-difference among the seven attackers, while Melbourne City starlet Daniel Arzani is another who can provide x-factor.
National team stalwarts Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse are two options on either flank, with both coming off strong seasons in Germany and both playing either side of Nabbout on Friday night.