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Three Burning Questions: Socceroos v Korea

by Ben Somerford on Jun 07, 2019

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“This is really the first step of our World Cup qualifying campaign,” Graham Arnold said on Thursday ahead of Friday night’s friendly against South Korea.

It’s been more than four months since Australia last convened at the 2019 Asian Cup but given Arnold’s squad selection, the friendly nature of the fixture and with the Matildas about to commence their Women’s World Cup campaign, the Socceroos have taken a back seat.

Australia’s 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign is due to commence in September, with the draw set to take place on July 17.

With the twin disappointments of last year’s World Cup and this year’s Asian Cup still fresh in the mind, it is hard to turn your mind to 2022 qualifying but those dates aren’t far away.

So GGArmy’s Ben Somerford asks three burning questions about Friday’s friendly against the Taeguk Warriors who have UEFA Champions League runners-up Son Heung-min among their squad.

With so many changes, who starts?
It’s the obvious question given the likes of Mat Ryan, Tom Rogic, Aaron Mooy, Massimo Luongo and Trent Sainsbury have all been rested. In fact, Aziz Behich, who’ll skipper the side, is the only starting XI member for last year’s World Cup in this squad.

Arnold utilized a 4-3-3 formation at the Asian Cup and I don’t think he’ll change that. The in-form Awer Mabil is a certain starter wide in attack, while it’s easy to assume Korea-based Adam Taggart will get first shot up front. Craig Goodwin arguably deserves a start to provide width on the left.

The midfield, with a cumulative total of 19 caps between nine players, is a complete guess. Brandon O’Neill, Josh Brillante and Terry Antonis are all in the mix to get first crack at the holding midfield position vacated by Mark Milligan, although the latter may be afforded a more adventurous role. Dimitri Petratos and Brandon Borrello are the obvious choices as creative midfield options, although both lack match sharpness for differing reasons.

In the backline, Behich is a walk-up start at left-back along with Asian Cup right-back Rhyan Grant, given he’ll be relatively match fit after last month’s A-League Grand Final. The same can be said about Matt Spiranovic, who has been in the international wilderness but had a standout 2018/19 season with Perth Glory. Spiranovic should start in central defence alongside either Rhys Williams or Thomas Deng.

Mitch Langerak’s withdrawal due to illness means either Andrew Redmayne or Lawrence Thomas will debut. That’s a lottery and they may get 45 minutes each.

What’s the point with so many changes?
Arnold has deliberately rested his key Europe-based players after a grueling schedule in recent times, which has included the longest-ever World Cup qualifying campaign, the 2017 Confederations Cup, the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Asian Cup in January. It’s been a while since these players had a proper European summer holiday in June/July.

He’s also eager to increase his squad depth and explore his options, noting that predecessor Bert van Marwijk only used 14 players at the 2018 World Cup, thus not trusting the wider group. Arnold was keen to stress he felt there was plenty of talent available.

The squad includes six potential debutants as well as a series of players recalled from the international wilderness such as Spiranovic, Taggart, Mitch Duke, Rhys Williams and Bailey Wright, so motivation should be high. Arnold won’t be expecting a cohesive performance, but he’ll hope a few players can showcase what they’ve got to offer to put their name up in lights for World Cup qualifying.

Will Korea be full bottle?
Taeguk Warriors boss Paulo Bento took a different approach to Arnold with selection, naming the bulk of his first-choice players, rather than offering them an off-season getaway. Tottenham’s Son is a case in point, having played in the UEFA Champions League final only last weekend.

Korea are due to also play Iran four days after the Socceroos friendly as they fine-tune for September’s opening World Cup qualifiers. Bento was appointed boss after last year’s World Cup where Korea beat reigning champions Germany but didn’t get out of the group. The Portuguese led the side at the 2019 Asian Cup where they lost in the quarters to eventual champions Qatar, which was a disappointment similar to that felt by Australia.

In that context, he wants good results. Newcastle’s Ki Sung-Yueng and Augsburg’s Koo Ja-Cheol both retired after the Asian Cup, while ex-EPL star Lee Chung-Yong, Dijon’s Kwon Chang-Hoon and Mainz’s Ji Dong-Won have cited injuries for their absence. Other than that, this is a relatively strong Korean squad.