New faces and old warriors in Socceroos squad for Asian Cup

Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

Despite recently undergoing surgery on a fractured cheekbone, Socceroos captain Mat Ryan has been selected in Australia’s 26-man squad for the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar announced by head coach Graham Arnold in Sydney on Friday morning.

Australia – the 2015 Asian Cup champions under former national coach, now Tottenham manager Ange Postecoglou – are drawn in Group B for the tournament starting on 12 January. They face India (13 January), Syria (18 January) and Uzbekistan (23 January) in the group stage.

Related: Graham Arnold reaches milestone as Socceroos continue on World Cup path | Jo Khan

After a poor showing at the tournament in 2019, when Australia were knocked out in the quarter-finals, Arnold is desperate for an improved showing in Qatar to build on their strong 2022 World Cup.

In a surprise, Arnold has selected veteran striker Bruno Fornaroli as an old warrior in an otherwise youthful squad that highlights the regeneration the national team has undergone since the 2022 World Cup.

The 36-year-old Uruguayan-born forward’s 12 goals in eight games for Melbourne Victory in the A-League Men this season has landed him a ticket to the Asian Cup in Qatar where he will seek to add to his two caps.

Only 12 players from the team which reached the round of 16 last year have been retained, with fitness concerns denying Mathew Leckie, Awer Mabil and Jamie Maclaren call-ups.

The Socceroos’ squad size was boosted following a decision by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to allow teams to select 26 players for the tournament, as opposed to the traditional 23. Arnold said the opportunity to bring additional players to Doha would prove invaluable.

“The decision by the AFC was based on feedback from coaches following last year’s World Cup, and it’s a positive outcome that has given us plenty to think about in recent days,” said Arnold, who will assemble his squad in Abu Dhabi for a pre-tournament camp on New Year’s Day.

“Overall, I’m extremely happy with the squad we’ve selected for the Asian Cup, it strikes the balance that we’re looking for considering we’ve only just commenced World Cup qualification in November.”

Arnold has placed faith in the core group of players used in internationals in 2023 including striker Mitchell Duke, winger Craig Goodwin and midfielder Jackson Irvine.

Thomas Deng returns from club duties with Albirex Niigata, while Bruno Fornaroli (Melbourne Victory) and Lawrence Thomas (Western Sydney Wanderers) are back in the national side as reward for strong performances in the A-League.

Injuries to Hearts defender Nathaniel Atkinson (ankle) and midfielder Riley McGree (foot) have limited their opportunities for both club and country in recent months, but both are now fit and will make the trip to Doha for their first Asian Cup.

“At our core we have an extremely connected group, who have built a strong culture over many years. We’re welcoming in some new players who I think will prove fantastic additions to that,” Arnold said.

“It’s important that we bring energy and intensity to both our preparation and play, it’s something we’ve become renowned for and will be a big part of the group’s success moving forward.”

Longtime No 1 Ryan, in excellent fettle for Netherlands heavyweights AZ Alkmaar before his injury, will be given the opportunity to prove his fitness in the coming weeks but Joe Gauci and the in-form Thomas loom as successors.

Following his debut against Bangladesh in the Socceroos’ World Cup Asian Qualifiers, Kusini Yengi has been named to debut. Forward John Iredale also has his first senior call up following time in Football Australia’s youth development pathway.

Another new face to the squad is Gethin Jones from Bolton Wanderers, with the defender pledging allegiance to his country of birth. The Everton academy product has previously played youth international football for Wales.

“We’ve had to be strategic with some of our selections, considering our Olympic qualification commences in April and have looked to balance the age profile and experience of players across various positions in the squad,” Arnold said.

“I’m excited about the potential within this group and am looking forward to getting into camp in the New Year.”

Goalkeepers: Joe Gauci, Mat Ryan (c), Lawrence Thomas. Defenders: Nathaniel Atkinson, Aziz Behich, Jordy Bos, Cameron Burgess, Thomas Deng, Gethin Jones*, Lewis Miller, Kye Rowles, Harry Souttar. Midfielders: Keanu Baccus, Jackson Irvine, Riley McGree, Connor Metcalfe, Aiden O’Neill, Patrick Yazbek*. Forwards: Martin Boyle, Mitchell Duke, Bruno Fornaroli, Craig Goodwin, John Iredale*, Sam Silvera, Marco Tilio, Kusini Yengi. (*denotes uncapped)


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