Asian Cup attack set in stone

If you consider Josh Brillante a defender and Tommy Oar a forward, there were only six midfielders in the squad named to face the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in friendlies last month.

Even if you include Brillante, Chris Herd and Brad Smith, that's still just nine, with five forwards (Tim Cahill, Mathew Leckie, Robbie Kruse, Bernie Ibini and Oar) in that 23-man group.

By contrast, Ange Postecglou has chosen 10 midfielders for this month's week-long camp and Japan friendly. Mark Milligan, James Troisi, Mile Jedinak, James Holland, Massimo Luongo and Mark Bresciano have all been retained and are joined by Terry Antonis, Aaron Mooy, Mitch Nichols and Matt McKay.

Despite trimming one of his usual three goalkeeper spots, the coach has only picked three out-and-out forwards.

While fans and the media alike were concerned by a lack of goals and indeed chances in the Middle East friendlies, Postecoglou perhaps feels the fault lies with the players immediately behind his front line. 

Hence the inclusion of Nichols, Antonis and Mooy, all of whom may vie with Troisi and Luongo - as well as the absent Oliver Bozanic and Dario Vidosic - for the role of understudy to Mark Bresciano, an audition none of the aforementioned would-be playmakers has nailed to date.

The lack of experimentation up front tells us what we already knew: Postecoglou's starting forward three against Kuwait on January 9 - barring injury or drastic loss of form - will be Tommy Oar, Tim Cahill and Robbie Kruse. 

Mathew Leckie is next line if any member of that trio is unavailable. A specific reference in Postecoglou's press conference to Tomi Juric, not picked for the Japan friendly to allow him game-time for Western Sydney, hints at a likely place for the Wanderers forward. 

The other hopefuls - Ben Halloran, Adam Taggart and Bernie Ibini chief among them - will have to tear it up at club level over the next two months to stand any chance of sneaking in.

Journalists present at Postecoglou's press conference on Wednesday made a case for Ante Covic to be recalled after the Wanderers goalkeeper's heroics in the AFC Champions League final. He may have been among the Hyundai A-League's best in recent seasons, but the Western Sydney custodian is highly unlikely to displace Maty Ryan, who can make the position his own for close to two decades if he maintains his early career form.

Mitch Langerak hasn't shifted from his position at the head of the queue behind Ryan, with Brad Jones (32), Adam Federici (29) and Eugene Galekovic (33) all significantly younger than 39-year-old Covic. While the coach insisted the door is open to all challengers, a mention of the need to look beyond the Asian Cup to the next four-year World Cup cycle meant the issue of a late-career recall for Covic is a non-starter as far as the boss is concerned. 

Ange made it clear he deems Matthew Spiranovic, left out as he regains match fitness at club level, indispensible, praising the Wanderers centre-back as Australia's best defender at the World Cup. With Curtis Good still sidelined, that leaves a spot alongside 'Spira' for one of Alex Wilkinson, Trent Sainsbury or Nikolai Topor-Stanley to make their own. 

Ryan McGowan has been left out of the Japan squad and the Asian Cup will arrive in the middle of the Chinese Super League off-season, placing his participation in serious jeopardy due to lack of sharpness. 

Jason Davidson meanwhile has lost his grip on the left-back role through a combination of indifferent international form and nonexistent club form - the 23-year-old has barely played since swapping Heracles for West Bromwich Albion. Counting in his favour are a lack of viable alternatives. 

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