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Three Burning Questions: Socceroos' 2022 WCQ 2nd Round Qualifiers

by Ben Somerford on Jun 03, 2021

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With 567 days between games, there's no end of uncertainty and burning questions looming over the Socceroos who return to the competitive stage on Friday morning against 148th ranked Kuwait.

Kuwait will be the hosts of the tournament-style event, which will wrap up the Group B second round 2022 AFC World Cup qualifiers.

In case you missed it, the Socceroos will play their four remaining second round games from June 3-15 against Kuwait, Chinese Taipei, Nepal and Jordan in the heat of the Kuwaiti summer, albeit with late kick-off times, thus early wake-up starts for us back in Australia.

A lot has changed since the Socceroos last played a competitive match, on November 14 2019 with a 1-0 away win over Jordan in Amman, particularly in terms of personnel. But the expectations remain the same. Qualify.

With the changes and uncertainty, GGArmy's Ben Somerford ponders three burning questions ahead of the run of qualifiers.

Will the Socceroos qualify for the next stage?
This is the ultimate question and there's a wide-held expectation that Australia will cruise into the next round of qualifying when things ramp up against the top sides in Asia. The Socceroos have had a perfect start with four wins from four games and 16 goals scored.

It must be noted, there are a lot of unknowns about this tournament format, as well as the side generally, with seven uncapped players, some key players missing, no obvious leader and the length of time since our last game (note the Matildas recent wallopings after a long hiatus). Playing in the Middle East is always a challenge for the Socceroos too, as evidenced by the 2019 Asian Cup campaign in UAE where the side crashed out in the quarters after two wins, a draw and two defeats.

But the quality of opposition is different this time around Australia's group lead holds them in good stead, with a game in hand too. Wins over group minnows Nepal and Chinese Taipei will be enough to seal a top two spot, given Jordan and Kuwait still play each other, but top spot is the goal as it seals automatic qualification.

As first-up opponents, hosts Kuwait loom with threat and they've played a bit this year, so they'll have an advantage in cohesion but their recent results aren't good, losing five of their past six. Jordan, ranked 95th, have played eight times this year, with three wins, two draws and three losses.

How to replace Rogic and Mooy's creativity?
The last time the Socceroos played, Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy both started in midfield but both are out of this run of qualifiers for injury and family reasons respectively. The pair are arguably Australia's most creative players at the moment, so they leave a major void.

Mathew Leckie offers powerful wide play, Jackson Irvine is a tireless gritty mid and Chris Ikonomidis has craft and skill but the side needs a player to get on the ball and boss the play. The obvious candidate is Ajdin Hrustic, who has the pedigree to be that player.

The Melbourne-born 24-year-old, who only has three caps to his name, has been overseas for the past decade but has had his big break the past 12 months, moving from Dutch club Groningen to Bundesliga contenders Eintracht Frankfurt where he made 12 appearances this season, albeit with only one start.

Graham Arnold said he's a "completely different player" to the one previously involved with the Australia set-up but whether that translates to the Socceroos and he has the confidence to be the man in the midfield is another question. We'll wait and see. But a lot rests on his shoulders.

Who is the skipper?
Since Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan's international retirements, Arnold hasn’t been set on a permanent skipper. The void of international football for 18 months hardly helped.

You may say that the armband is purely symbolic but any successful organization will disagree with that. Strong clear leadership is key and the Socceroos do appear to currently lack a natural leader. Trent Sainsbury, Mat Ryan, Aziz Behich, Mathew Leckie and even the recalled James Holland have good leadership characteristics but none seem to quite fit the bill just yet. With 18 months between camps, the players may have grown or matured so this tournament represents a good chance to showcase that and stake their claim.

Arnold has said that he'll likely continue to rotate the captaincy. I tend to agree with that stance. There's no need to force a captain. Allow one to organically stand up. But at some point in the near future, a decision does need to be made. And sometimes being thrust into the role brings the best out of you. Another wait and see.

For now, bring on the return of the Socceroos (from Friday 5am AEST).