Garang Kuol states Socceroos selection case with World Cup squad to be named | Australia

If Graham Arnold was reaching for the panadol to deal with selection headaches back in September, he might need something a little bit stronger at this point. With Australia’s opening game of the World Cup against France just over two weeks away, deliberation time has run out for the Socceroos boss. There is no more football left to be played and no more opportunities to make cases for selection; 1,153 days after the Socceroos began their journey to Qatar, Arnold will on Tuesday name the 26 players he will take to the biggest sporting event on the planet.

But unfortunately for Arnold, while the majority of his squad appears largely settled – the names of “15 or 16 players” were effectively decided on two months ago and several others have bolstered their cases since – the picture surrounding the final slots became no clearer across the weekend, particularly for those plying their trade in the Australian top flight.

“If you think too much about it it can affect your mentality and focus going into games,” said Melbourne City attacker Mat Leckie. “At the end of the day, the only thing we can do is perform for our clubs and get ourselves in tip-top shape. And then it’s up to Arnie.”

Admittedly, for players such as Leckie, the stakes associated with the opening weeks of the ALM season have been low. One of Arnold’s defining features as a coach is his loyalty to his players and he will be loth to drop any that brought him to this point. This will only be heightened by the injuries, lack of club minutes, or some combination of the two that have befallen so many in the months leading into the tournament. The sudden uncertainty surrounding those that would have been considered cornerstones may make the pragmatic Arnold think twice about pulling too many shocks at the selection table.

Coming from a position in which he has likely been protecting a position rather than trying to earn one, Leckie’s spot in Qatar was likely secure even without taking into account his important contributions to City’s undefeated start to the domestic season. The same goes for his teammate Jamie Maclaren, whose brace against Perth Glory on Saturday brings him up to seven goals in five games to start the season.

Adelaide United winger Craig Goodwin, who has returned to fitness after battling injuries to lead the league in chance creation, is in a similar position, while penalty-shootout hero Andrew Redmayne has avoided falling into a crevice while keeping goal for Sydney FC and will almost certainly also be on the final list.

But it all cannot be that easy. Across the last round of ALM before Arnold lays down his squad, City attacker Marco Tilio, Central Coast Mariners duo Garang Kuol and Jason Cummings, and Macarthur dynamo Daniel Arzani took to the field with what was likely just a single spot on the plane up for grabs – and that is excluding Roma’s Australia-born, Italy junior international Cristian Volpato from the equation.

Melbourne Victory romped to a 4-0 win over the Newcastle Jets with Chris Ikonomidis, Nick D’Agostino, and Jake Brimmer all contributing, but the run of three straight games without a goal prior to Friday evening’s dominant display has cast a shadow.

Based on form, the player with the strongest resume from the 2022-23 season is Cummings. The Scotland-born attacker has played a key role in three of his side’s four games to start the season and had a signature one-goal and three-assist performance against Western United in round four. Cummings, however, is attempting to break into a largely settled centre-forward group and was largely overshadowed by Kuol in the Mariners’ 3-0 win over Western Sydney on Saturday after the 18-year-old yet again turned the game on its head when introduced as a substitute.

Kuol’s latest eye-catching display off the bench came after Tilio netted his second goal of the season in City’s win over Glory earlier in the day; the winger finished strongly after a switch to the left in the second half. The question for Tilio is if his combined 18 minutes across the season’s two rounds will cost him at the selection table.

With just one match-winning performance under his belt so far this season, Arzani started farthest back of the quartet of hopefuls when he made the trip to Wellington. An assist and another strong individual performance followed – the 23-year-old leads the league in dribbles attempted and is second in successful dribbles – but his side’s 4-1 loss and his marker Callan Elliot scoring up the opposite end may have ended his hopes.

Possible Socceroos squad: Mat Ryan, Mitch Langerak, Andrew Redmayne, Aziz Behich, Joel King, Harry Souttar, Kye Rowles, Trent Sainsbury, Milos Degenek, Bailey Wright, Nathaniel Atkinson, Fran Karacic, Aaron Mooy, Jackson Irvine, Ajdin Hrustic, Cam Devlin, Riley McGree, Craig Goodwin, Denis Genreau, Awer Mabil, Martin Boyle, Mat Leckie, Garang Kuol, Mitch Duke, Jamie Maclaren, Adam Taggert.

Australia Cup finalists Macarthur and Sydney United close friends and even closer enemies | FFA Cup

It is the final that former Socceroo Mile Sterjovski hoped would happen, and it’s not an understatement to say the Australia Cup decider will be a milestone for Australian football. When Macarthur FC meet Sydney United at Commbank Stadium on Saturday night, not only will a trophy be on the line but it will, for the very first time, be within the grasp of a team from outside the A-Leagues. Never before has a National Premier Leagues outfit been so close to a piece of national silverware and a place in Asia’s continental competition.

When Football Australia launched the Australia Cup – previously known as the FFA Cup – in 2014, it was an acknowledgment by the game’s administrators that there still existed a valuable footballing resource outside the professional tier. The A-Leagues had previously positioned itself as ‘new football’, in a break from the ‘old soccer’ of the National Soccer League. Now, as Sydney United – a former NSL club of repute once called Sydney Croatia – prepare for their date with destiny, old soccer is very much a part of new football.

The decision to create a competition that brings Australia in alignment with many countries around the world may seem a relatively benign step. But for a local, multicultural football ecosystem which has for decades grappled with questions around its identity and place in broader Australian society – long before the A-Leagues was a concept – it was an important act of inclusion. United may be the first, but their progression speaks to broader themes of ambition, aspiration and connection.

In keeping with these themes of reintegration, it is also fitting that this symbolic run has led them to a fixture against a young Macarthur outfit who have adopted some key figures from United’s past in their quest to begin to establish a legacy.

Bulls assistant coach and former Sydney United player Mile Sterjovski.
Bulls assistant coach and former Sydney United player Mile Sterjovski. Photograph: Jeremy Ng/AAP

Take Macarthur chief executive, Sam Krslovic. Before becoming one of the drivers behind the Bulls’ push for, and eventual entrance, to the A-Leagues, Krslovic helped steward United during the tough period following the end of the NSL and their return to the state leagues, serving in roles including but not limited to president, vice-president, treasurer and head of football. He also helped recruit former United player and coach Ante Milicic to lead the new A-League Men’s team in their first two seasons.

The same can be said of Anthony Crea, Macarthur’s head of high performance who was in the United dugout as an interim boss when they defeated Rockdale Ilinden in a dramatic penalty shootout to become 2020 champions of New South Wales. United centre-back Jacob Poscoliero, who will miss the final through injury, works as a community officer for the Bulls, heading out to schools and clubs throughout the region to win hearts and minds for the very club his teammates will seek to vanquish on Saturday.

Sterjovski, the Bulls’ A-League Youth and NPL coach, scored 20 goals across two seasons with United, including a strike in their 3-2 loss to South Melbourne in the 1999 NSL grand final (Australian Professional Leagues chief executive Danny Townsend was United’s other scorer that day). He knows his employers will need to be on the front foot against a side with few expectations and even less to lose, but is still relishing the occasion.

“It was a final that I was hoping would happen,” says Sterjovski, whose playing career featured 43 appearances for the Socceroos. “I’ve been part of both clubs and my time at Sydney United was a special one, it was my first time in senior football when I got out of the AIS. It was a club that gave me an opportunity to play at a higher level. I have very good memories of playing for Sydney United.

Ivan Vujica slips past the Wellington Phoenix defence in the quarter-final at Campbelltown.
Ivan Vujica slips past the Wellington Phoenix defence in the quarter-final at Campbelltown. Photograph: Kevin Manning/Action Plus/REX/Shutterstock

“So, definitely got a soft spot in my heart for them, but now being at Macarthur, we are trying to create some memories of our own.”

There are on-field connections as well. Macarthur’s Tomislav Uskok, Nicholas Suman, Ivan Vujica will all be playing against their former club. Vujica, the 25-year-old defender, was effectively ensconced at Edensor Park as soon as he could walk, and played for the club’s academy before moving to Croatia as a teenager.

“My first ever game was in a Sydney United shirt,” Vujica says. “I was playing in my older brother’s team. I was three and a half and he was six. My mother used to work in the canteen and my father was on the board. So, the ties with Sydney United are endless. It’s almost like I’m facing friends and family.

“I knew what the stance was all along for my father and the rest of my family. I’d say the ideal scenario is that I score a hat-trick but United win 4-3. Maybe my mother’s going for me, but that’s about it.

“Everyone else has made it very clear that they’d rather Sydney United wins – and I can’t blame them in that regard.”