With the 2015 Asian Cup victory on home soil still fresh in the memory, the focus now turns to Russia 2018 for Ange Postecoglou and the Socceroos. With two draws against Germany and FYR Macedonia now in the book and some new faces in the ranks, Australian football expert Joey Ratcliffe looks into the future and what the 2018 squad (hopefully) on the plane to Moscow could look like.
With 2018 World Cup qualifying having officially begun, it will be Australia’s turn to take part when the second round kicks off in June.
In a squad that that won the biggest trophy in Australian football history, and has barely dusted off a place in the cabinet for the oversized cup, respect must be given to all those players who helped etch this nation’s name in footballing history.
How manager Ange Postecoglou built the squad is just as important as well. He tried and tested over 40 players in the period of his reign before the successful Asian Cup campaign.
This tells us one thing: he believed in every single player he selected.
And so must we.
That is why each member of the Asian Cup-winning squad will be given the best chance to be available for a potential place in the 2018 World Cup – providing we qualify.
Of the current 23, 14 have made the cut for The Blog FC’s 2018 squad.
What needs to be addressed first is the unlucky nine that missed out and why.
The biggest determining factor in missing the 2018 cut was age. The second was other players available that will hopefully have developed in the years since – either being nudged out in 2015 or not even on the radar until 2018.
The first player to miss out is Eugene Galekovic. Adelaide United’s captain has been to two World Cups, one Asian Cup and played a total of no minutes in those tournaments.
But Galekovic has earned his place on merit, even if he has never been in a position to truly claim the top goalkeeping spot in Australian football. As trustworthy as he is for a coach to have in your final 23, over the next three years another star in the long line of talented Australian goalkeepers will flower.
He will also turn 37 two days before the 2018 World Cup starts and, at that age, he will either be too old for Australia’s newfound youth policy. International or overall retirement before then is also a possibility.
In defence, Alex Wilkinson, Chris Herd, Ivan Franjic and Aziz Behich miss out.
Wilkinson misses out because of age. By 2018 he will be 33 and, even though he stood tall in a shaky Australian defense at the 2014 World Cup, his starting position was gifted by Trent Sainsbury’s unfortunate injury in the Eredevise.
As for Chris Herd, Ivan Franjic and Aziz Behich, their places in the squad are tenuous even now. Considering both full back positions were two of the weakest positions in Australia’s starting team in the 2015 Asian Cup, a contingent of developing youth are ready to take their places in the 2018 squad.
Aside from Behich profiting from a dearth of quality left backs in the national team, his attacking qualities have always seen him gain more plaudits than his defensive game.
Herd, on the other hand, has ongoing injury problems and seems to be spiraling into a club journeyman. He may well stay fit and prove the doubters wrong, but the gut says that, not only will he be wasted talent, he will be overshadowed by the burgeoning youth options.
In three years, there will be far too many right-back options available for Franjic to even get a look into his second World Cup selection.
In midfield, Marc Bresciano recently retired after an international career that gave us so many highlights, most notably that goal and statuesque celebration when Australian ended their World Cup qualifying drought against Uruguay in 2005.
As for Matt McKay, Ange has won domestic and international trophies with the hard-working Queenslander. Nevertheless, by 2018 the other midfield talent will outshine McKay for a place in the squad for the Russia 2018.
The two strikers to miss out – Tim Cahill and Nathan Burns – do so for contrasting reasons.
Despite his drive for the game, instinct tells most people that Cahill’s age will catch up to him by 2018.
Burns on the other hand has never featured heavily in the senior side. He has abilities and was always highly regarded, especially in his rise as a youngster in the A-League with Adelaide United. He even put in an excellent performance against Germany in March.
But Burns has a long line of youth behind him waiting for their opportunities. And they will take them.
2015 Asian Cup Socceroos in the 2018 World Cup Squad (age in 2018):
1. Mat Ryan (26)
2. Mitchell Langerak (30)
3. Jason Davidson (27)
4. Matthew Spiranovic (30)
5. Trent Sainsbury (26)
6. Massimo Luongo (26)
7. Mark Milligan (33)
8. Mile Jedinak (33)
9. Tommy Oar (26)
10. James Troisi (29)
11. Terry Antonis (24)
12. Matthew Leckie (27)
13. Tomi Juric (26)
14. Robbie Kruse (29)
THE NEW BLOOD FOR 2018:
Adam Federici was selected as the third-choice goalkeeper for the friendlies against Germany and FYR Macedonia. Though, you only need to look to the Olyroos squad announced last month to see who will usurp the Reading ‘keeper for the third sport for 2018.
That man will be Jack Duncan. The highly rated Glory youngster deputises for Danny Vukovic in the A-League and has eight professional starts for Perth and Newcastle. He was selected in the Olyroos squad alongside Adelaide’s John Hall and QPR’s Aaron Lennox.
In 2018, Duncan will be 25. Over the Australian summer he went on trial with Randers FC in Denmark and Glory are reported to be weighing up on option to let the youngster leave in the off-season.
If a path to Europe opens for Duncan, his talent and hunger should see him develop in the same vein as Ryan and Langerak, despite the limited A-League game time compared to those two.
The centre-back pairing of Spiranovic and Sainsbury will continue for the foreseeable future. The duo were excellent in the Asian Cup and should hold the back-four together in 2018 unless one of them falls dramatically out of form or injury sets in.
The only question that remains is who will be their deputy? That man has always looked likely to be Curtis Good.
Good made his professional debut at the ripe age of 18 for Melbourne Heart. By the end of that season, the Premier League’s Newcastle United snapped him up for $600,000.
Now 21, Good has earned only one senior cap for the Magpies (in the League Cup), but in the interim he has been sent out on loan to Bradford City and Dundee United in Scotland.
Despite being capped for the Soccoroos against Ecuador last year, Good has spent most of that time since on the injury list. Because of a seemingly injury-prone nature, Good could easily be crossed-out of this list like Chris Herd, but his youthfulness and obvious defensive talent should see him blossom into one of Australia’s best defenders by 2018.
The Liverpool FC left-back and England youth player was secured at senior level for the Socceroos last year by Ange when he made his international debut against Belgium.
Left-back is arguably Australia’s most worrying position, mainly because of the available defensive capabilities.
2010 World Cup left back David Carney was a winger turned fullback while Aziz Behich, as aforementioned, is praised more for attack than defense.
Jason Davidson is a more rounded player than those two, however, his defensive lapses have cost Australia games in the past, most notably keeping Robin van Persie onside for the Netherlands second goal in the Brazil.
At only 20, Smith has many years of developing ahead of him. He made his Liverpool FC debut in 2013 against Chelsea and has gone on loan to Massimo Luongo’s Swindon Town.
If the more natural left-back can stay at Liverpool and earn his way into the first team, Smith will be a shoo-in by 2018.
The defender was selected for the Socceroos’ 2014 World Cup campaign but missed selection for the Asian Cup.
McGowan is probably best known for whipping in the cross for that Cahill goal against the Netherlands.
Having forged a career in Scotland, McGowan transferred to Shandong Luneng Taishan in China. With no disrespect to the Chinese League, McGowan is, thankfully, back in the Scottish Premiership with Dundee United where he will develop better as a footballer.
At 25 now, McGowan is yet to hit his peak as a defender. By 2018 he will be 28 and the experience he earned in 2014 will be paying dividends.
The young Queenslander, who debuted for Gold Coast United in the A-League before being an ever-present utility for the Newcastle Jets surprised many when he joined Serie A’s Fiorentina last July.
During Fiorentina’s pre-season, Brilliante was regularly selected and made a positive impact.
Despite starting on the first day of the season, Brilliante was hooked before half-time for an under-par performance and has barely been sighted since. Now on loan at promoted Empoli, Brilliante could kick-start his fledgling European career.
It would be harsh to judge Brilliante in Europe so far. As a hot young prospect seemingly over-awed on his first senior cap in Europe, he was seen as a player full of potential.
By the time 2018 rolls around, Brilliante will shake his nerves and inexperience and should fulfill the talent that has so far earned him five senior Australian caps.
Hopefully he will also make a huge contribution to the upcoming Olyroos campaign and earn himself a spot in the Rio Olympics next year.
The 19-year-old prodigy has been called up for his first senior Socceroos squad, but he has been on the radar of football aficionados for years.
Over the last decade, it’s been rare to see a young Australian groomed by a large European team. In 2013, Lazio pinched Ikonomidis from Atalanta, where fellow Australian James Troisi was also playing at the time.
In Italy, Ikonomidis has developed into a quality attacker whose recent form in Lazio’s U20s earned him a call up to the pine for the senior team.
Ikonomidis was approached by Greece three years ago, but the Sutherland Sharks junior was steadfast in his commitment to representing Australia. Against Macedonia this week, he made his senior Australian international debut without ever playing a senior club game.
Capable of scoring inside and outside the box, Ikonomidis will add an x-factor to the Socceroos in 2018 that has been missing in World Cups since 2006’s Golden Generation.
How often is an Australian teenager battled over by the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United?
Well, Panos Armenakas was before he signed for Italy’s Udinese last year, making him the youngest Australian to sign a professional contract in Europe’s top five leagues.
Having spent two years in Watford’s academy, Armenakas joined the Italian side in a deal that may have been influenced by the Pozzo famly ownership of both clubs.
Eligible to play for the USA through birth and Greece through his father, Armenakas has reportedly pledged his allegiance to the country of his upbringing – Australia.
As a traditional number 10, Armenakas should fill the playmaking hole that has been missing for the Socceroos for many years, despite the qualities of the aging Bresciano.
To make you feel old, Panos was born after Australia lost to Iran in the infamous 1997 World Cup qualifier.
By 2018, he may still be fresh-faced, but a new Golden Generation of Australian youth is on the horizon where names will burst into the national team like it was the ‘90s all-over again.
Armenakas might be the first of many – as long as we don’t lose him to a rival national team, like so many of the last Golden Generation.
Like McGowan, Taggart was selected in the squad for the 2014 World Cup, playing two games. One of those was an incredibly underwhelming performance when he started against an equally underwhelming Spain before being subbed off at half-time.
Yet Taggart left the World Cup to join England’s Fulham FC after securing a transfer from the Newcastle Jets.
His transfer and World Cup selection were off the back of an incredible 2013/14 A-League season where the young Sandgroper clinched the Golden Boot with 16 goals.
Taggart beat off fellow A-League youngster Tomi Juric, but Juric beat Taggart to the Asian Cup squad after the Fulham player suffered through injury and form.
Taggart has taken time to settle in London. Time that will, however, pay off, much like it did with Robbie Kruse in Germany before his breakout Bundesliga season with Fortuna Dusseldorf in 2012/13.
While the Socceroos were playing Germany and FYR Macedonia, Taggart has joined the likes of Terry Antonis, Brad Smith, Jack Duncan and Joshua Brilliante in the Olyroos squad – a squad that coach Aurelio Vidmar was allowed to choose ahead of senior selection. They’re not just a bunch of young, rejected Socceroos.
Taggart has earned seven caps so far for the senior national team and with three years before the next World Cup, Taggart will blossom from A-League gun to European hotshot.