Irankunda in for Socceroos as Riley McGree sidelined

George Clarke |

Adelaide United youngster Nestory Irankunda could be in line for a Socceroos debut against Ecuador.
Adelaide United youngster Nestory Irankunda could be in line for a Socceroos debut against Ecuador.

Adelaide sensation Nestory Irankunda is on the cusp of becoming the Socceroos’ youngest-ever player after an unwell Riley McGree was ruled out of the first of two friendlies against Ecuador.

Middlesbrough midfielder McGree picked up a bug while travelling to Sydney from England ahead of Friday’s clash.

It means 17-year-old Irankunda, who was initially brought into the squad as a training player, could be awarded his international debut against the South Americans.

“We only just saw him (McGree) for the first time this morning,” Australia coach Graham Arnold said on Thursday.

“He’s had the flu and those types of things so it gives Nestory the chance to be in the 26-man squad, and we’ll see how the game goes.”

Irankunda only turned 17 last month and if he sees gametime at CommBank Stadium on Friday he will surpass Duncan Cummings as Australia’s youngest-ever player. 

The back-flipping teenager has scored or assisted a goal for Adelaide in five of his last seven A-League Men games.

There is excitement from fans and his peers about what Irankunda might achieve, with Socceroos frontman Mitchell Duke labelling him a “freak” earlier this week.

The winger’s trajectory is made all the more impressive by the fact Adelaide coach Carl Veart has yet to start him in a senior fixture and if he plays on Friday, Arnold is likely to introduce him from the bench.

Arnold is hopeful McGree will be fit to feature against the Ecuadorians next Tuesday, when Australia face the South American side again at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium.

The Socceroos boss also hinted the uncapped duo of Manchester City midfielder Alex Robertson and Melbourne City fullback Jordan Bos could win their maiden caps on Friday.

But Arnold said their inclusions would be supplemented by the core of players who reached the last 16 at last year’s World Cup in Qatar. 

Football Australia has billed the Ecuador friendlies as a homecoming celebration of the team’s best-ever finish at a World Cup, but Arnold is keen for the games to act as a stepping stone towards next year’s Asian Cup and beyond. 

“It’s a great opportunity to blend,” Arnold said.

“If you put just the kids in all alone without the older players as the leaders to help them on the pitch it could be a little bit daunting for them.

“Publicly this is about an opportunity to celebrate what the boys did, but internally it’s been more about the new campaign starting.

“We did a great presentation reflecting on the World Cup; that’s our base and it’s about going higher than we did (in Qatar).” 

Goalkeeper Mat Ryan will captain the side with Arnold revealing Milos Degenek would start at right back.

Arnold also confirmed assistant coach Rene Meulensteen had inked a contract extension with FA this week. 

Youngest Socceroo debutants:

*Nestory Irankunda (v Ecuador, ) 17years 43 days

Duncan Cummings (v China, 1975) 17 years 139 days

George Christopoulos (v Greece, 1978) 17 years 182 days

Harry Kewell (v Chile, 1996) 17 years 214 days

*If Irankunda plays on Friday