Socceroos: Graham Arnold has World Cup qualifiers on his mind

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold admits he has selection “headaches” ahead of the start of Australia’s 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign next month in Melbourne.

The Socceroos meet either the Maldives or Bangladesh on November 16 at AAMI Park before backing up five days later against Palestine.

With Palestine unable to host matches on home soil, the November 21 game is expected to be held in Algeria, although that’s yet to be confirmed by the AFC and FIFA.

The Socceroos’ clash with New Zealand on Wednesday morning is Arnold’s last chance to have a look at some players before selecting his squad for next month’s two games.

“I’m getting headaches now in selecting the team, where probably for three or four years I didn’t have that,” said Arnold, who added his first task after taking charge of the national team following the 2018 World Cup was to “regenerate” the squad.

“We had an old squad. I had to … win matches and qualify for the (2022) World Cup,” he said.

“We’re getting more and more depth (now) and that was the most important thing for me over the last six months after I re-signed.”

Fourteen players – Nathaniel Atkinson, Fran Karacic, Mathew Leckie, Bailey Wright, Jamie Maclaren, Ajdin Hrustic, Aaron Mooy, Riley McGree, Cameron Devlin, Danny Vukovic, Thomas Deng, Garang Kuol, Joel King and Jason Cummings – from Australia’s 26-strong 2022 World Cup squad aren’t in the contingent assembled in England.

Central Coast Mariners goalkeeper Vukovic has retired from international football, while former Celtic midfielder Mooy has quit the game altogether.

Middlesbrough midfielder McGree was originally named in the squad for the games against England and New Zealand but withdrew because of a foot injury.

Injuries also ruled out Hearts defender Atkinson and Melbourne City star Leckie, while some of the others who weren’t picked paid the price for a lack of football at club level.

“Players have to be performing at club level, getting match minutes and playing well – there are no guarantees to play for your nation,” Arnold said.

“This weekend when the A-League starts, all those players will come into contention.

“It’s about picking the best 23 players in form at the time when the window comes.

“No one signs a contract to play for the national team – they have to earn it.”

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