Opinion: 15 'probables' for Russia leaves 11 fighting for spots
Six players had their FIFA World Cup dreams dashed on Tuesday following the announcement of Bert van Marwijk’s 26-man Caltex Socceroos squad for this month’s training camp in Turkey.
Jamie Maclaren, Apostolos Giannou, Mitch Langerak, Alex Gersbach, Bailey Wright and Aleksandar Susnjar have not progressed to the next stage of the selection process.
While it’s heartbreaking for some, it means the likes of uncapped teenager Daniel Arzani and Newcastle Jets star Dimi Petratos remain in the hunt for a spot at football’s showpiece event.
Tim Cahill, Australia’s all-time leading scorer, and stalwart Mark Milligan are still both in with a shot to make a fourth FIFA World Cup squad.
The 26-man squad will get the chance to impress van Marwijk in a three-week training camp in Turkey and in a friendly against the Czech Republic in Austria on June 1.
Van Marwijk will then name the final 23-man squad for the FIFA World Cup on June 3 before a second friendly against Hungary in Budapest on June 9.
So, with a further three players to be trimmed from the squad, we take a closer look at some of the key battles for starting XI positions ...
Mat Ryan, Brad Jones, Danny Vukovic
Probables: Ryan, Jones, Vukovic
With FIFA guidelines requiring three goalkeepers in each World Cup squad, all three players will be on the plane to Russia barring any injuries.
That being said, van Marwijk has made it clear that the battle for the number one spot is well and truly up for grabs with no-one guaranteed a starting berth.
The Dutchman used all three goalkeepers in the two March friendlies which indicated he is willing to look past incumbency.
Ryan enjoyed a strong debut season in the English Premier League with Brighton and helped the Seagulls secure their stay in the top flight for another season.
The 26-year-old is the established Socceroos shot-stopper and played the majority of Australia’s World Cup Qualifying campaign. Looks to be the front-runner.
Vukovic has been third-choice in the pecking order for a while for the Socceroos but an outstanding first season in Belgium with Genk could see him challenge for the top spot.
Made his full international debut in March’s friendly against Colombia and didn’t look out of place.
Jones spent four years in the international wilderness but returned to the fold in March and played the first-half of Australia’s 0-0 draw with Colombia.
Has enjoyed another solid campaign in the Dutch Eredivisie with Feyenoord and provides a different option for van Marwijk given his larger presence in goal.
Selected: Trent Sainsbury, Josh Risdon, Matt Jurman, Mark Milligan, James Meredith, Fran Karacic, Milos Degenek, Aziz Behich, Josh Brillante
Probables: Sainsbury, Jurman, Milligan, Behich, Degenek
Back fit and playing regularly for their clubs, Trent Sainsbury and Matt Jurman look like strong favourites to start in the heart of defence for Australia’s first match against France.
Mark Milligan has been one of the Socceroos’ most consistent players in recent years and his ability to play in both defence and midfield means he’s likely to earn a spot in the 23.
Aziz Behich, coming off a strong season in Turkey with Bursaspor, is Australia’s in-form left-back and played both legs in November’s World Cup play-off against Honduras. Will be in Russia.
Milos Degenek is another who offers versatility for Australia with the Japan-based defender able to play at centre-back and out wide. Has been a regular with Yokohama F Marinos in the J-League.
Alongside Behich, James Meredith is the only other out-and-out left fullback in the squad and after a solid campaign in England with Millwall, is likely to be included.
Possibles: Risdon, Karacic, Brillante
With the problematic right-back position up for grabs, Josh Risdon, Fran Karacic and Josh Brillante all appear to be battling to prove their worth to van Marwijk.
Josh Risdon played 90 minutes against Colombia and was a consistent performer in Western Sydney Wanderers’ disappointing Hyundai A-League campaign. Has a good engine to get up-and-down the flank but will need to see off fresh competition from Karacic and Brillante.
Fran Karacic is uncapped for Australia and was a surprise selection in van Marwijk’s preliminary 32-man squad. Has represented Croatia at U-21 level and plays his football in the top tier of Croatian football. An out-and-out right-back, the speedy Karacic will be desperate to show he deserves a spot in Russia.
Josh Brillante has been ultra-consistent for Sydney FC over the past two seasons in midfield but has been selected as an option at right-back for Australia. The 25-year-old has played there previously for Newcastle Jets and has the athleticism, composure and passing range to do a job for the national team.
Selected: Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic, Mile Jedinak, Massimo Luongo, Jackson Irvine, James Troisi
Probables: Mooy, Rogic, Jedinak, Luongo
Aaron Mooy enjoyed a superb debut season in the EPL with Huddersfield and remains one of the Socceroos most important players. Certain to go to Russia if he stays injury free.
Massimo Luongo was best on field against Colombia in March and is coming off a strong season in the Championship with QPR. Strong contender to start against France.
Mile Jedinak is another to have had a strong season with his club, guiding Aston Villa to the Championship play-off and netting the winner in the first-leg Semi-Final victory over Middlesbrough.
Tom Rogic remains arguably Australia’s most creative player and will go into camp off the back of a title-winning campaign with Celtic in the Scottish Premiership.
Possibles: Jackson Irvine, James Troisi
Jackson Irvine has been somewhat of a bit-part player for the Socceroos over the past 12 months and will need to prove to van Marwijk that he deserves a spot in Russia. Has had a solid season with Hull City and his versatility in midfield is a bonus for Australia.
James Troisi appears the man with the most to prove in midfield but he's scored some important goals for the Caltex Socceroos in the past but needs to impress in Turkey if he’s to make a second World Cup. He's coming in after a late up-turn in form for Melbourne Victory.
Selected: Mat Leckie, Robbie Kruse, Tomi Juric, Tim Cahill, Daniel Arzani, Dimi Petratos, Andrew Nabbout, Nikita Rukavytsya
Probables: Leckie, Juric, Kruse
Mat Leckie is coming off a superb campaign in the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin and will be one of the first on the plane to Russia.
Tomi Juric has been the first-choice striker for Australia in recent times when fit and as long as he can overcome a slight injury concern, will be picked for a maiden World Cup campaign.
Robbie Kruse is one of the few Aussie attackers playing regularly and performing at club level, netting seven goals in 30 appearances for Bochum in the 2.Bundesliga this season.
Possibles: Cahill, Arzani, Petratos, Nabbout, Rukavytsya
With just 62 minutes in 10 matches for Millwall, Tim Cahill will need to prove his fitness and match-sharpness at the Turkey training camp. Is a proven match-winner and lives for the big occasion – likely to go to Russia.
Uncapped teenager Daniel Arzani is coming off a break-out season in the A-League with Melbourne City and provides van Marwijk with a real x-factor given his speed and dribbling ability. A real chance for the final squad.
Dimi Petratos and Andrew Nabbout both achieved maiden call-ups in the March friendlies and impressed van Marwijk with their performances. Nabbout’s ability to play up front and out wide is a huge asset, while Petratos’ super form in the A-league is hard to ignore. Both are strong contenders.
Nikita Rukavytsya looms as the player most under pressure with the Israeli-based forward playing just seven minutes in the March friendlies. Has scored 10 goals in 32 appearances for Maccabi Haifa this season but will need to step up in camp if he’s to make it to Russia.