Australia has learned the 26 players who will represent the nation at the FIFA World Cup in just over two weeks time.
Inevitably, plenty of discussion has emerged over the notable inclusions and omissions.
But perhaps most strikingly, the general make-up of the squad goes completely against the key message Arnold had preached after qualifying for Qatar in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Foxsports.com.au breaks down the biggest talking points from Arnold’s 26-man squad, including the absence of arguably the nation’s most talented player and how a teen star turned down the chance of a lifetime.
MORE: SOCCEROOS ANNOUNCE WORLD CUP SQUAD
SAY GOODBYE TO SLEEP: FULL WORLD CUP SCHEDULE WITH AEDT TIMES
17 AUSSIES SET FOR EPIC FIRST: EVERY WORLD CUP SQUAD
WHAT A HIT! Strain a Socceroos bolter? | 00:30
ARNOLD BACKFLIPS ON KEYS TO SELECTION
In August, Socceroos coach Graham Arnold revealed the two keys for any Australian players hoping to earn their place in the World Cup squad: fitness and form.
“It’s not about signing contracts with the national team,” he told Fox Sports. “It’s about performance and form. And you know, the message I drove straight after the Peru (World Cup Playoff) game to the players was no one signed a contract. No one’s got any guarantees, you have to get back to your clubs.
“There’s one thing that I can’t control, and that’s the physical aspect of every player because they’re at their clubs. You’ve got to get back to your club, you’ve got to work extremely hard. You’ve got to be the fittest you’ve ever been because these games are every three days, you know, so you have to be the fittest you’ve ever been to recover. And you’ve got to be in the form in your life.”
Fitness and form: the keys to earning a place on the plane to Qatar. It was a message he reiterated time and again. After the Socceroos last fixtures – two wins over NZ in September – he said: “The boys have to go back to their clubs, they’ve got seven weeks, they’ve got to play, and they’ve got to be fit. They’ve got to be probably the fittest they’ve ever been.
“And thankfully, and finally, the A-League starts. And those boys I can actually watch the league and pick players on form, not on reputation.”
Fitness and form, Arnold repeatedly said, were the crucial ideals underpinning selection. Until Arnold named his squad today and – in some cases – threw form and fitness out of the window.
Liverpool owners open to new investors | 00:50
The most glaring example is at the goalkeeping position, where in-form Mitch Langerak was a bombshell omission. Langerak has been arguably Australia’s most consistent performer at club level in the four years since the 2018 World Cup in Russia, a standout gloveman in Japan’s top flight with Nagoya Grampus. He broke the J-League record for clean sheets twice in four years, and this season was awarded his club’s player of the season after another standout campaign. Form? Check. Fitness? Check.
Compare his recent minutes to the trio of Socceroos keepers Arnold selected. Langerak has played 19 times since July 1 – 1,710 minutes all up. Mat Ryan, having lost the number one jersey at Copenhagen, has played 11 times this season for 1,020 minutes, but was benched for virtually all of October, playing just one cup game after his last league appearance on October 2. It’s hardly an ideal preparation for a World Cup.
The situation of the other two glovemen in the squad is even more damning.
Daniel Vukovic has played four games for the Mariners – 360 minutes – making just five saves along the way. Andrew Redmayne has featured in eight games (including three Australia Cup clashes) – totalling 750 minutes.
But those A-League players were in their off-season between May and July, while Langerak was racking up minutes and clean sheets. Since Japan’s season began in February, Langerak has played a whopping 41 times (with 17 clean sheets), totalling 3,609 minutes. When it comes to fitness, there is no match for match minutes – and Langerak blows his rivals out of the water. And how about form? Langerak has 48 clean sheets for his club since the start of 2021. The other three have 35 clean sheets … combined.
It drives a knife straight through Arnold’s claim that form and fitness would be the two keys to his selections.
Looking elsewhere at the squad, and players with the most match minutes in recent months have also been overlooked.
The central defender with the most minutes since July 1 is the omitted Harrison Delbridge, with Alex Grant (third-most) also missing out.
Missing left back Jason Davidson has more minutes than the selected Aziz Behich. Another absent left-back, Callum Elder, has featured far more regularly than the selected Joel King. Right back Ryan Strain has more minutes than the two selections in Nathaniel Atkinson and Fran Karacic.
In midfield, Kenny Dougall has comfortably the most minutes this season but was also left out.
Kuol stars in Mariners win | 01:05
STAR TEEN SNUBS SOCCEROOS YET AGAIN … BUT THE DOOR REMAINS AJAR
If there was ever a carrot that could be dangled to entice Cristian Volpato and pledge his international allegiance to Australia, it was the chance to play at the World Cup.
Arnold even called the talented teen three times yesterday and informed him he would be in the 26-man squad.
Yet the teenager has, perhaps unsurprisingly, turned down the opportunity which Arnold said “is all his right”.
Volpato, who plays with Serie A outfit AS Roma, was born and raised in Australia but is also eligible to play for Italy.
And it is with the Azzurri that Volpato is hoping his international future lies having constantly rebuffed Arnold’s offers to link up with the Socceroos, including late last night.
Funnily enough, Italy — four-time World Cup champions — will not be participating in Qatar, having been knocked out of the qualifiers by Macedonia.
However, Italy have friendlies pencilled in against fellow World Cup absentees Albania and Austria which could prove to be a window that Volpato earns a cap for his desired nation.
Interestingly enough, Volpato’s agent is Italian and Roma legend Francesco Totti so it’s perhaps no wonder the teen has his sights set on playing in the famous blue shirt.
But until that happens, there’s still a chance — albeit one that shrinks with every passing international window — we may see Volpato in the famous green and gold for the Socceroos
It just won’t be in Qatar.
ONLY 150 MINUTES OF MATCH ACTION ISN’T ENOUGH FOR ROGIC
With someone as talented with the ball at his feet and an almost-unrivalled ability to thread the needle within the Socceroos ranks, it wouldn’t have been all that surprising to see Tom Rogic make the final cut – especially with squad sizes expanded to 26 from the usual 23.
But having left Celtic after last season, Rogic was without a club for months before joining Championship side West Bromwich Albion. Having missed pre-season, he battled for fitness in the notoriously tough league and has managed just 150 minutes this season, including just one start.
Arnold said: “At the end of the day … we need players that are extremely fit and ready.”
But he added: “Tommy’s been absolutely brilliant for Australian football and he will continue to do that.”
That’s despite withdrawing at the last minute from the Socceroos squads for the crucial World Cup play-off matches against the UAE and Peru (and not explaining his reasons to coach Arnold or his Australian teammates).
With fellow attacking midfielder Ajdin Hrustic overcoming a recent ankle injury, taking a risk on an unfit Rogic was probably a step too far.
FIRST OVERLOOKED FOR A 34YO VETERAN, CULT HERO GETS CHANCE TO SHINE
As the Socceroos prepared for two crunch World Cup qualifiers against Japan and Saudi Arabia back in March, Graham Arnold had a dearth of striking options due to injuries and Covid protocols.
There had been some noise for Jason Cummings to be handed a call-up. After all, he had impressed with two goals and three assists in his first seven games for the Central Coast Mariners.
Instead, Arnold passed on the cult hero, opting to hand a debut to then-34-year-old Bruno Fornaroli, who was able to change his international allegiance from Uruguay to Australia.
Then, having scored eight goals in 10 games to round out the A-League Men’s season, Cummings was again overlooked for the Socceroos squad for the World Cup play-off matches.
The reasoning? Arnold believed he was “very similar” to fellow striker option Jamie Maclaren, as the Melbourne City man was named in the squad and went on to convert a penalty in the shoot-out against Peru.
Cummings eventually got his chance to shine for the national team and took it with both hands, scoring a penalty on debut against New Zealand.
Now, the 27-year-old larrikin will get the chance of a lifetime having booked his spot on the plane to Qatar.
It’s some change in fortunes for a player overlooked in favour of an ageing Uruguayan-turned-Aussie.
THE SECRET CHEMISTRY WEAPON UNDER ARNIE’S SLEEVE
Having spent seven years as an A-League men’s coach, Graham Arnold needs no reminding of the quality on offer and it’s reflected in his squad, with several players from the league called up.
What’s interesting is that Arnold has doubled up on a number of players.
The combination of Kuol and Cummings at the Mariners as well as Mat Leckie and Jamie Maclaren at Melbourne City could prove to be key for chemistry.
Not only that, but the entire Australian contingent at Scottish Premiership outfit Hearts — Nathaniel Atkinson, Kye Rowles and Cameron Devlin — all made the cut.
Whether we see the A-League Men’s or Scottish Premiership combinations come into effect at any stage during a match in Qatar remains to be seen.
But having the ability to call on a partnership built up at a club and then transfer it over to the international stage could prove to be a special weapon.