The countdown to the FIFA World Cup is officially on as the Socceroos prepare for their farewell friendly against New Zealand.
Graham Arnold’s side meet the Kiwis in Brisbane on September 22, before the Australians travel to Auckland for a game at Eden Park.
With it being the final international window before the big dance, many eyes will be on the Socceroos to see who will prove they deserve a seat on the plane to Qatar.
Foxsports.com.au analyzes the four burning questions surrounding the Socceroos ahead of the Trans-Tasman scuffle.
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IS MAT RYAN REALLY THREATENED?
One of the biggest additions to the Socceroos squad was gloveman Mitch Langerak, who retired from international football in May 2021 due to extremely difficult Covid-19 regulations in Japan, where he has played since 2018.
The 34-year-old Queenslander has been a picture of consistency with Nagoya Grampus over those four years. In 2020, he set the J1 League record with 17 clean sheets.
Last year he did even better, notching a whopping 21 clean sheets in 38 games, including a record nine straight clean sheets in one stint.
Still, Langerak has only won eight caps in his career, thanks to captain Mat Ryan’s vice-like grip on the Socceroos’ number one shirt.
Even when Ryan struggled for minutes at his own club – unlike Langerak, who amassed minutes at Nagoya – Ryan was played for the national team.
It’s something he’s consistently done. But there simply is no substitute for minutes and Ryan made the bold decision to leave Spain – and the chance to play against some of the best in the world – to join Copenhagen FC this season.
The playing time he accumulates, including in the Champions League, is a crucial boost for his preparation for the World Cup.
Had Ryan sat on the bench for another season at Real Sociedad, it’s entirely possible that Langerak could seriously challenge him for the number one jersey in Qatar – despite Ryan having the Australian captaincy, 74 caps and playing in both 2014 and 2014 has world championships 2018.
Roos coach Graham Arnold said Langerak was given “no guarantee” he would travel to Qatar for the tournament, which begins on November 20.
“The only guarantee for him right now is those two games against New Zealand and he’ll be in camp for them,” Arnold said.
“His fitness and performances are the most important things leading to Qatar.
“It’s about getting all our plans for the World Cup right. We need to make sure we’re prepared for plan B and plan C in case something happens to one of the goalkeepers.”
He will likely start in one of the two New Zealand clashes. A good performance there and he’s likely to hold his own as a back-up plan for the Socceroos.
It’s simply a reward for a player whose incredible achievements – and career – have all too often been underestimated in Australia.
WILL TEENAGE SENSATION BE ENOUGH TO BOOK WORLD CUP PLACE?
Excitement ran high when Garang Kuol’s name was added to Arnold’s 31-man squad for the New Zealand friendlies.
The teenager took the A-League men by storm, scoring four goals in seven appearances from the bench.
He capitalized on his chance to play for the A-League All Stars with both hands and delivered a performance that Barcelona boss Xavi described as “amazing”.
When he was called up to the Socceroos on his last day as a 17-year-old, not many would have expected such a meteoric rise.
For all the positivity surrounding Kuol’s call-up, he has yet to start an A-League men’s game for the Mariners.
Influencing a game from the bench and doing it from the first whistle are two different stories.
Should Kuol get a seed in both games, it could shed light on whether or not he has a shot at the World Cup.
Being part of a Socceroos camp where the results aren’t exactly fatal is the perfect environment for Kuol to prove he can compete with Australia’s best.
But there’s no margin for error once the action begins in Qatar.
HOW DO SOCCEROOS FILL ROGIC’S CREATIVE BODY?
Tom Rogic is without a doubt the Socceroos’ most creative player.
But he also has a very real chance of not making the World Cup.
Rogic, who recently signed for championship team West Bromwich Albion, needs to build up his match fitness and put in some needed minutes.
And when he can’t, Arnold must find a way to fill the creative gap in his team.
The Socceroos boss was forced to do so when Rogic unexpectedly withdrew from the squad ahead of the World Cup playoffs, but this camp gives Arnold the ideal opportunity to see what creative juices he can pull from his squad.
He might even change his tactical system to compensate and thrive on other games’ respective skills.
If Arnold finds a way to make it work, he might not even have to worry about the Rogic conundrum when it comes to naming the final World Cup squad.
DO A-LEAGUE PLAYERS HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO PROVE THEMSELVES?
There are six A-League men’s players in Arnold’s 31-man roster: Andrew Redmayne, Jason Cummings, Garang Kuol, Mathew Leckie, Marco Tilio and Jamie Maclaren.
There are only two certainties from the group going to Qatar and that’s Redmayne and Leckie.
Redmayne’s penalty exploits against Peru have made him almost unstoppable, while Leckie’s experience and know-how mean he simply has to be on the plane.
But Cummings, Kuol, Tilio and Maclaren need to prove they’re worth it.
The problem is that there are only six A-League men’s games between the start of the season on October 8 and the suspension of the competition for the World Cup.
If a player fails to present at camp, six games may not be enough to secure his acceptance into the Socceroos.
Tilio and Maclaren are more likely to make the final squad than Kuol and Cummings as they both played for the national team and have demonstrated their skills at this level which is a huge advantage for them.
But because of this camp and in six games, a lot can change.
Will there be a change for the better or for the worse?