The World Cup’s around the corner and you know what that means? Publications from here to Timbuktu feverishly start putting pen to paper on their features on all 32 sides. Some in depth with key insights, others with general comments and the small few with some clear clerical errors.
The Australian national team haven’t by any stretch to the imagination pulled up any trees, for the lack of a better phrase. But the coverage has been in this writer’s opinion woeful. The Guardian’s piece of the 32 teams had the timeline of the Ange Postecoglou appointment wrong and no mention of that ill-fated German he whose name must not be spoken.
The Bleacher Report’s feature of World Cup teams said Australia lack any “rising stars” or key players referencing Mile Jedinak as the main man for the Green and Gold. The same Mile Jedinak who struggled for Australia in qualification and was on the bench for when Australia eventually qualified for the big show piece. The pick seemed lazy, pick an Australian playing in the Premier League and he must be their best.
Discounting the last 18 months Robbie Kruse and Tommy Oar have had at club level or the sustained reliance on Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano. You could maybe make a case of Tommy Rogic being a key player if Bresciano is banned for a four month period.
In the rising star department along with Oar and Kruse is former Adelaide United man Matthew Leckie who is having a breakout season. He’s been among the very best in this season’s 2.Bundesliga with a number of goals to his name.
In late September, former Socceroo and 1860 Munich footballer Paul Agostino was talking about the Adelaide United product.
“[German] media here are really opening up their eyes now about him,” Agostino said.
“They’re realising now what he’s got and I think his coach Benno Möhlmann has seen how to utilise Leckie to full effect.”
“He’s also starting to finish off goals really well and that explosive pace he’s got, well they’re loving that,” he ended.
Leckie isn’t the only rising star, Canberra’s own Tommy Rogic has had a rather meteoric rise. From unknown in terms of football’s elite until a Nike Chance competition to a full-capped Socceroo. Albeit with less than 30 professional games under his belt there’s still a rawness to Rogic but not without huge promise and slickness to his play.
In spite of the rise of Rogic, he’s been warned by Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou to find regular first team football, as he finds himself with a limited role at Celtic which manager Neill Lennon has put down to persistent injuries.
“If his back half of the season is like his first half, then he’s going to find it very hard to make the squad,” said Postecoglou
“He needs to be playing club football to be part of the World Cup squad.”
On the other side of the spectrum, defence is another part of the squad that has emerging talent. With the likes of Rhys Williams, Ryan McGowan and Trent Sainsbury becoming leading candidates in recent times, not to mention former Central Coast Mariners captain Alex Wilkinson who’s been impressing in the K-League Classic for Jeonbuk Motors.
An outside chance for a World Cup birth in central defence is Preston North End’s Bailey Wright. He’s had an outstanding season. Having been courted by Championship clubs like Blackburn and EPL clubs like West Bromwich Albion, it seems a matter of time until Preston’s ‘best player’ this season according to coach Simon Grayson is given an opportunity on a larger stage.
Midfield seems to be an area that relies on a series of players either staying fit and not succumbing to niggling injuries in Mark Milligan’s case and finding form again after a lengthy spell out such as Utrecht’s Adam Sarota.
Recent reports in Holland suggest Sarota’s close to returning for Utrecht but the question will be how he finds form after so long out of the game. He was playing regularly for the Dutch side prior to the injury and was equipping himself well as he received a call-up days before that ill-fated knee injury.
But the impressive performances of Jedinak in the EPL for a rather lacklustre Crystal Palace and the positive form of James Holland with Austria Wien, it makes it tough for the former Roar man.
Perhaps Australia’s not as bad as the ‘experts’ will have you believe, maybe they might just surprise a few in Rio.