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Three burning questions: Kuwait v Socceroos

by Ben Somerford on Sep 10, 2019

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Australia’s road to Qatar 2022 commences in the wee hours of tomorrow morning away to Kuwait but is it time we revised our expectations from the Socceroos.

Under Ange Postecoglou’s, Australia qualified for the 2018 World Cup via the longest path ever, encompassing 22 matches over 29 months and 250,000 kilometres of travel. It was arduous.

With some key players since departed and a new boss, Graham Arnold, at the helm, it’s a time of uncertainty. And you get the impression, 2022 won’t be any easier than 2018.

GGArmy’s Ben Somerford asks three burning questions as we prepare to begin the road to Qatar.

Where will the goals come from?
Following the retirements of Mile Jedinak and Tim Cahill over the past 12 months, the question is clear. Looking at the current squad, not one player has reached double figures for more international goals.

Mathew Leckie has nine strikes from 61 caps, while Massimo Luongo (six), Aaron Mooy (five) and Awer Mabil (four). The latter is among the solutions given his ratio where he’s managed his four goals from only 10 caps.

One-cap Brandon Borrello has come on in leaps and bounds in Germany, overcoming an ACL injury to progress into the first team at SC Freiburg where he’s been playing regularly in the Bundesliga. But the top choice is Adam Taggart, who has had stunning form in Korea as the K-League’s top scorer with 16.

Of all of those options, Taggart is the only one scoring consistently and he’ll get first crack.

How worrying is the lack of experience?
Captain Mark Milligan’s withdrawal from the squad leaves a void, given his 79 caps. The next most in the current squad is Leckie again, with 61. Beyond that only Mat Ryan has reached 50 appearances in green and gold. That’s a lot of inexperience.

We often hear about the need to replenish the squad with the next generation but sometimes it’s wise to keep the older generation around, to help set the standards, instil culture and lead the way. That’s why Arnold hasn’t let Milligan hang up the boots yet. It’s a delicate balance and I often worry the Australian public is too keen to cast aside older players for someone new.

In Milligan’s absence, the armband may fall to one of several options, Trent Sainsbury, Ryan, Leckie or Mooy. Whoever it is, it’s purely symbolic. This team needs several leaders. Leckie and Mooy certainly aren’t extroverted leaders, Ryan falls in the unique goalkeeper category meaning Sainsbury is the popular choice although I often wonder about his casual nature.

The point is, though, there’s no standout choice and that's the worry. Of course, leaders are often borne out of opportunity. That in itself is an essential evolution of this group over the upcoming World Cup qualifying journey.

Will we qualify?
Scanning through the Socceroos squad on paper nowadays can feel a little deflating. There’s few big European giants attached to player names. No more PSV Eindhovens, no more AC Milans, no more Liverpools, no more Galatasarays etc.

Our Aussies abroad are playing at modest levels with modest clubs. Our top two, Mooy and Ryan, are with humble Brighton & Hove Albion, who’ll likely battle the drop in the English Premier League this season.

The reality is that’s our lot for the time being. Our current crop aren’t world beaters. We only scraped in for 2018 via the back door. Don’t expect the road to Qatar to be easy or guaranteed with four-and-a-half spots up for grabs in Asia.

We hear often that the Asian Football Confederation is improving, as evidenced by the 2019 Asian Cup which Qatar won, but arguably the Socceroos are also going backwards right now.

We must remember that World Cup qualifying takes two years and this side will evolve. Let’s hope we see the beginning of that evolution in the early hours of Wednesday.