Attacking options and experience highlight Caltex Socceroos’ AFC Asian Cup squad

Graham Arnold has left little doubt to how the Caltex Socceroos will approach their AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019™ title defence next month.

The Caltex Socceroos boss named his 23-player squad for the tournament on Thursday, mixed with plenty of big-game experience and fresh faces looking to make their mark.

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The squad will assemble in the UAE after Christmas as they begin to ramp-up their preparation ahead of the opening group match against Jordan on January 6.

And there’s a lot to get excited about with high-octane, attacking football set to be the mantra of Arnie’s squad.

Arnie settles on his attack

A feature of the Arnold era has been the vast array of attacking options, deployed to implement his vibrant, pro-active style.

But the Caltex Socceroos boss looks to have found the right formula with his attack.

The presence of Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse provides experience, but it’s the presence of the likes of the returning Chris Ikonomidis, Awer Mabil, Martin Boyle and Jamie Maclaren which points to how Australia will play.

“We will play energetic, high-intensity football in the UAE, and the rapid attackers we have selected, including Chris, Mathew [Leckie], Robbie [Kruse], Awer [Mabil], Martin [Boyle], Andrew [Nabbout], and Jamie [Maclaren] will enable us to implement our style,” Arnold said on Thursday.

The exciting thing for Arnold is the majority of his attacking options are fighting fit and in-form.

Ikonomidis has lit up the Hyundai A-League with Perth Glory this season, while Mabil is one of the leading assist makers in Denmark.

Leckie has re-established himself in Hertha Berlin’s starting side lately – and scored a goal on Wednesday (AEDT) – while Boyle and Maclaren have enjoyed some success in Scotland with Hibs.

With a couple of weeks to mesh these options together on the training pitch, Australia will expect to hit the ground running from the start of the tournament.

More experience than in 2015

When the Caltex Socceroos embarked on their AFC Asian Cup tilt on home soil in 2015, it was very much a fresh squad with most of the players new onto the international scene.

Four years on and while there are still plenty of new blood in Arnold’s squad, there is a host of players that have a large number of international caps.

Eight of the squad have more than 35 caps to their name while the likes of Aziz Behich (29 caps), Jackson Irvine (24), Josh Risdon (13) and Milos Degenek (19) are all established in the national team now.

While never afraid to give youngsters a chance, it will be comforting for Arnold to know his players won’t be overawed by the occasion and adept to deal with the pressure of a major tournament.

And that experience is sure to help the fresh faces cope for whatever comes the Caltex Socceroos’ way in the UAE.


Hyundai A-League flavour

Arnold has stayed true to his word or rewarding Hyundai A-League form with selection in the national tea,

Western Sydney Wanderers defender Josh Risdon, Perth Glory winger Chris Ikonomidis and Sydney FC right-back Rhyan Grant have arguably been their side’s best players and have deserved their spot in the 23-player squad.

But they are three of 19 current or former players that are heading to the AFC Asian Cup.

The likes of Maty Ryan and Aaron Mooy used the Hyundai A-League as a springboard to moves to the Premier League while UEFA Champions League representatives Tom Rogic, Trent Sainsbury and Aziz Behich all made their first-team debuts in the local competition.

Other European regulars Robbie Kruse, Mustafa Amini, Awer Mabil, Alex Gersbach, Matthew Leckie, Jamie Maclaren, Mark Milligan and Danny Vukovic have spent time in the Hyundai A-League before moving abroad, as have Asian-based trio Mitch Langerak, Matt Jurman and Andrew Nabbout.

Rhyan Grant