Irankunda ready to handle Socceroos pressure: Arnold

George Clarke |

Nestory Irankunda has earned his first Socceroos call-up for World Cup qualifiers.
Nestory Irankunda has earned his first Socceroos call-up for World Cup qualifiers.

Graham Arnold says Nestory Irankunda’s on-field reaction to his Olyroos snub was enough to convince him the prodigious teen was ready for his first senior call-up.

The 18-year-old Irankunda, who just last week threatened to switch allegiance to Burundi or Tanzania after being consistently overlooked from national team camps, was named in Arnold’s Socceroos squad on Wednesday.

The Bayern Munich-bound teenager was one of several exciting names picked for next month’s World Cup qualifiers against Bangladesh in Dhaka on June 6 and Palestine in Perth on June 11.

Australia has already reached the final round of qualifiers, but convincing wins can help secure a favourable draw for Arnold’s men. 

Irankunda is one of three uncapped players called into Arnold’s squad alongside in-form Newcastle Jets forward Apostolos Stamatelopoulos and Melbourne Victory goalkeeper Paul Izzo. 

There are also recalls for dual-eligible defender Alessandro Circati and Victory winger Daniel Arzani, who is in line to win his first cap since 2018.

But it is the inclusion of Irankunda that will create the biggest ripple after the teenage winger was left out of the Olyroos’ qualification squad in April.

Olyroos boss Tony Vidmar hinted that Irankunda lacked the maturity to handle extended time in set-up at the U23 Asian Cup.

The Olyroos were bundled out at the group stage without scoring a goal to miss the chance to go to Paris. 

Arnold said Irankunda’s response to that omission, in which he scored two goals and registered two assists for Adelaide United, proved he was ready to come into calculations.

Graham Arnold.
Graham Arnold was impressed by the way Nestory Irankunda handled his Olyroos snub. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

“He wasn’t selected with the Olyroos, but his reaction after that was very good,” Arnold said.

“He’s got the quality, he’s got the ability, and now it’s time for him to show it. 

“I will say that it was about three or four weeks ago. I reached out to his agent, Adrian Griffin, and I reached out and spoke to Nestory. 

“He was moving to Germany on June 8 or June 9 and for him to be selected, we had to get that change (approved) from Bayern Munich so he could stay with us for the FIFA window.”

Arnold admitted he was “surprised” that Irankunda had floated the idea of playing for a country other than Australia as recently as last week, but said: “He (Irankunda) said his dream is to play with the Socceroos, and his dream will be fulfilled.”

The Socceroos boss, speaking from camp in Thailand, said he has given captain Mat Ryan next month’s window off as he deals with a minor knee issue and bids to secure his club future after coming off contract with Dutch side AZ Alkmaar.

Joe Gauci is likely to be handed the goalkeeper jersey with Ryan out of the side, as Arnold praised Arzani for fighting his way back from injury and into Socceroos contention after a stand-out year at Victory. 

“I think (Victory coach) Tony Popovic has done an outstanding job with him,” Arnold said. 

“He’s got him fit and hungry, and I have to say the last six or seven weeks is the best I’ve seen Daniel since he was with the Olympic team (in 2021).

“This is a great opportunity for the kid to come in and show us how much he wants to be with the Socceroos at the 2026 World Cup.” 

SOCCEROOS SQUAD:

Goalkeepers: Joe Gauci, Paul Izzo*, Lawrence Thomas 

Defenders: Aziz Behich, Jordy Bos, Cameron Burgess, Alessandro Circati, Gethin Jones, Kye Rowles, Harry Souttar, Ryan Strain 

Midfielders: Daniel Arzani, Keanu Baccus, Cammy Devlin, Ajdin Hrustic, Jackson Irvine, Connor Metcalfe, Josh Nisbet

Forwards: Martin Boyle, Mitchell Duke, Nestory Irankunda*, Mat Leckie, Apostolos Stamatelopoulos*, Adam Taggart, Kusini Yengi

* Denotes uncapped

AAP