It's been a while, but Geelong's finest Matthew Spiranovic is set to play his first games for the Caltex Socceroos in 2016.
On Wednesay, the classy 28-year-old Asian Cup winner was named in Ange Postecoglou’s squad for next month’s opening final phase World Cup qualifiers.
And it’s just at the right time as the Road to Russia 2018 starts again with a tricky clash in Perth against battle-hardened Iraq on September 1, followed by UAE away on September 6.
Spiranovic will come back into the fold in sensational form, too. The Wanderers ACL winner has been a key figure in Hangzhou’s mid-season resurgence in the Chinese Super League, playing 17 of 22 matches for the club in the league.
His return to the squad immediately brings 30 games of international experience into the Caltex Socceroos defence as they look to make a flying start to the final phase of group qualifiers.
A mainstay of the Australian defence since the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Spiranovic has gone on to form an excellent partnership with Trent Sainsbury during last year’s AFC Asian Cup triumph.
With Preston North End’s Bailey Wright in good touch and others like Milos Degenek and Ryan McGowan performing strongly for their clubs, defensive stocks are strong for Postecoglou heading into these crucial qualifiers.
Spiranovic has been forced to watch the last seven matches the Caltex Socceroos have played, bedeviled by injury whenever the national team was due to play.
His last outing in the Green and Gold came in the 2-0 defeat to Jordan in Amman last October.
A calf injury ruled him out of last November’s qualifiers against Kyrgyzstan and Bangladesh, while the same ailment saw the Hangzhou Greentown defender miss the last two qualifiers at home against Tajikistan and Jordan.
While he wasn’t considered for the England friendly in May (like a number of Asian-based players) he was recalled for the two-game Dodoni Series against Greece only to be ruled out again through injury.
But after almost a year without pulling on the Green and Gold, “Spira” is back.