Arnold switches focus to World Cup qualifiers, Olyroos

Anna Harrington |

Australia coach Graham Arnold has some big calls to make after their Asian Cup exit.
Australia coach Graham Arnold has some big calls to make after their Asian Cup exit.

As he ponders the Socceroos’ massive missed opportunity at the Asian Cup, coach Graham Arnold will have to turn his focus to the dilemmas awaiting the next stage of his tenure.

The pain of Australia’s quarter-final exit would only have been enhanced when tournament favourites Japan, on the other side of the draw, crashed out with a loss to Iran.

Instead, Australia have to look forward.

The Socceroos return to action via World Cup qualifiers against Lebanon in March, while the Olyroos have the U23 Asian Cup, which doubles as Paris Olympic qualifiers, in April.

Arnold is contracted through to the end of the current World Cup cycle and chief executive James Johnson reinforced his support for the coach, despite a disappointing tournament in Qatar

How much Arnold changes his squad for the Lebanon clashes will be fascinating, having flagged he expects some senior players to retire.

Alessandro Circati should be drafted back into the Socceroos’ World Cup plans. (AP PHOTO)

Talented young defender Alessandro Circati looms as one recall.

The 20-year-old was left out of the Qatar squad to allow him to focus on chasing promotion to the Italian top-flight with Parma.

He continued to impress while his international teammates were away.

But Manchester City midfielder Alexander Robertson is sidelined after having hamstring surgery while on loan at Portsmouth and appears unlikely to be ready.

One player Arnold could turn to, in order to deliver some much-needed creativity, is Ajdin Hrustic.

The Melburnian ended a horror run at Serie A club Hellas Verona by securing a switch to Dutch team Heracles Almelo.

Hrustic back in Arnold's good books?
Ajdin Hrustic is a creative talent to whom Arnold could again turn his attentions. (Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)

If he can get some much-needed game time, a return to the fray appears likely.

The likes of Adam Taggart, Josh Nisbet and Daniel Arzani have also impressed in the A-League Men.

Working out Australia’s first-choice striker to lead the line through to 2026 will be another key focus.

None of Australia’s strikers scored across five games at the Asian Cup.

Hard-working Mitchell Duke failed to bury multiple golden chances in the quarter-final defeat and now 33, is at the tail end of his career, as is 36-year-old Bruno Fornaroli.

Kusini Yengi has made it clear he wants to be the man moving forward – and things could well open up for him now.

“Now it’s my time, when I get the opportunity, to go out on the field and to prove to these people that we do have good players who can play as a striker and number nines that can score goals,” the confident 25-year-old told AAP during the tournament.

Bolter John Iredale didn’t play a minute in Qatar, while Jamie Maclaren, Taggart and Jason Cummings weren’t selected.

Arnold and his team are also putting in the work to secure the international futures of talented prospects eligible to play elsewhere – both for the Olyroos’ Paris campaign and the Socceroos.

The Socceroos still hold out hope of convincing Italy youth international Cristian Volpato to commit to Australia.

Sons-of-guns Noa Skoko (Croatia), young Socceroo Paul Okon-Engstler (Belgium) and Liam Chipperfield (Switzerland) are also on Australia’s radar long-term.