Forgotten defender Fran Karacic is on the verge of a long-awaited Socceroos debut after his selection in Australia’s squad for next month’s World Cup qualifiers in Kuwait.
Socceroos boss Graham Arnold and his coaching staff left on Wednesday night for the United Arab Emirates, where the Socceroos will gather for a camp ahead of a condensed block of 2022 World Cup qualifiers next month against Kuwait, Chinese Taipei, Nepal, and Jordan in Kuwait City.
Arnold will announce what’s expected to be a 34-man squad next week, but before that, 13 players – including Arsenal goalkeeper Mat Ryan, Hertha Berlin attacker Mathew Leckie, KV Kortrijk defender Trent Sainsbury and Birmingham City midfielder Riley McGree – will be the first bunch of the squad arrivals in the UAE.
They will be joined by Karacic, the 25-year-old Croatia-born fullback eligible to represent the Socceroos through his Australia-born father.
The former under-21 Croatia international, who now plies his trade with Italian second division club Brescia, came close to debuting for the Socceroos three years ago but was cut from Australia’s 2018 World Cup squad when it was reduced to 23.
Arnold said he wanted to see as many players as possible – including Karacic – after a long period of Socceroos’ inactivity due to the ramifications of COVID-19.
“I haven’t seen the senior boys for 18 months … we’re looking at all players,” he said.
“No-one expected the pandemic to go on as long as it has.
“I’m looking forward to getting the Socceroos back on the pitch and getting these games on.
“We’ve got 13 early arrivals that can acclimatise and start training. Their clubs have been great with the goodwill of releasing them early.”
Two players who won’t be in the squad are injured pair Jimmy Jeggo and Callum Elder.
Former Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United midfielder Jeggo, who plays for Greek Super League club Aris, has a metatarsal problem in his foot.
Sydney-born left back Elder, who has been in England for 10 years and currently plays for third-tier club Hull City, has a knee injury.
Arnold, who doubles as Olyroos coach, said there would be a “handful” of Tokyo Olympics hopefuls – including McGree – in the Socceroos squad.
“I truly believe that the strength of the Socceroos is the Olyroos,” he said.
“If we hadn’t have had the pandemic, I probably would have debuted a good half a dozen of the Olyroos boys already. We’re going to need them in the long run.
“They will have the opportunity to train and play beside the senior players which I believe always takes players to another level.”