With place in round of 16 secure, Graham Arnold needs to swing his axe
With a place in the round of 16 confirmed, only a first-place decider with Uzbekistan remains between now and the knockouts.
With knockout qualification, a victory against the Uzbeks is no longer critical – but line-up changes are necessary if the Socceroos are to sharpen themselves ahead of the sudden death phase of the tournament.
The following side is set up in a 4-4-3 formation.
Goalkeeper: Mat Ryan
Despite a few fumbles, Ryan has kept the clean sheets Australia needed. Shot-stopping ability aside, Ryan’s leadership will become even more critical against the daring attacks the Socceroos are yet to face. If Ryan can regain the form which momentarily brought AZ Alkmaar to top of the table, Arnold’s men will be a tough nut to crack.
Left back: Jordan Bos
Favoured at left wing under Arnold, Bos has already bagged one goal this tournament off the bench and looked lively early against Syria with his jink and drive. The ageing Behich has played three consecutive matches at fullback, including the pre-tournament friendly against Bahrain. It’s time for Bos to be tested in his natural position as per his debut against Argentina.
Centre-backs: Harry Souttar and Cam Burgess
The Aberdeenshire boys have great chemistry and are tall and strong enough to provide aerial dominance in the box. The Championship pair were great against England in which they contained the likes of Ollie Watkins, Jarrod Bowen and Jack Grealish brilliantly. Without a clear route to goal so far this tournament, perhaps the centre-halves will become Australia’s greatest attacking weapons this tournament.
Right back: Lewis Miller
Gethin Jones has failed to convince Socceroos fans he is first-choice at right back. Jones has a rounded game, but has failed to show exceptional signs and at times has been exposed for lack of pace and positioning against the lively counter-attacking efforts of India and Syria.
Enter Lewis Miller, who has been in good form with Scotland’s Hibernian and brings much-needed brute force and courage with and without possession.
Holding midfield: Keanu Baccus
Employed as an 8 at club level, Baccus has the energy and passing game necessary to play quarter-back for the ‘Roos this tournament and bounce with the likes of Souttar and Burgess at rearguard.
Lacking a creative midfielder, the Socceroos have struggled to play through the corridor, and so Baccus’ clean and quick switching can help to unlock Australia’s wide attacking players. Defensively, Baccus is tenacious enough to body the better Asian midfielders.
Midfield: Jackson Irvine and Riley McGree
The Irvine-McGree combination was instrumental in the Socceroos qualifying for the World Cup knockout stage. What both men lack in creativity they compensate for in their gut-running, direct movement of the play.
Irvine’s goals have both come from the veteran’s sheer determination to cash-in on the spilt ball, while McGree has a clean assist to his game and continues to regain fitness. Both men have goals in them yet.
Left wing: Craig Goodwin
The veteran is yet to fire this tournament. Average against India and benched for Syria, Goodwin remains the ideal set-piece specialist. Playing against stacked defences has resulted in Goodwin’s crossing efforts being put on the backburner.
With more open playing opposition to come, however, expect Goodwin to have a more spacious box in which to find a target man. Further, the productive Bos playing behind Goodwin will enable the kind of overlapping runs and drives necessary to keep the opposition uncomfortable in containing Australia’s left side.
Right wing: Martin Boyle
A coin toss could decide the right edge between Boyle and Sam Silvera. Yet to register a goal this tournament, Boyle showed glimpses of his best version against Syria, including a darting effort which led to Irvine’s goal. On occasion, Boyle has managed to run in behind defences and be played through. Against better opposition, Boyle needs to take the defender on more and threaten the penalty box.
Striker: Kusini Yengi
Mitchell Duke has been suppressed by Asia’s dogged setups. Yengi enjoys playing with his back to the goal and feeding the players around him with deft touches and soft through-balls. Capable by air and surface, Yengi’s impact will hinge upon the early cross and ground-ball cutback from wide.
Yengi’s close control dribbling – a fine feature of his game – will be at the expense of losing Duke’s pressing efforts. A necessary trade.
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