Van Marwijk weighing up Caltex Socceroos' striking options
“When I nominate four or five strikers, I am 100% sure for one or two strikers. [But] I will not nominate five or six strikers [for the World Cup].”
Caltex Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk named a preliminary 32-man squad for June’s FIFA World Cup on Monday and made it clear that the battle for Australia’s problematic number 9 position remains wide open.
And with Tim Cahill struggling for game-time at Millwall and Tomi Juric carrying a slight injury, van Marwijk opted to include fringe strikers Jamie Maclaren and Apostolos Giannou in the extended squad.
While Juric appears certain to be picked for Russia, Andrew Nabbout, Maclaren, Cahill and Giannou are all locked in a battle for the remaining spots.
And judging by van Marwijk’s comments on Monday, the Dutchman’s preference is to have a balance when it comes to his options in the front third.
“You’re talking about strikers but you’re talking about different styles," van Marwijk said.
“Juric and Giannou they are very big. They are strikers you play the ball and they have to keep it and other players have to come around [and support].
“And you also have strikers who are very fast. Both strikers sometimes you need.
“I like playing with fast players, especially offensively. But it has to fit. They have to fit together.
“I don’t think, maybe I do, but normally you would not nominate three only big strikers.
“You will make the difference with a big striker and a faster striker.
Although not an out-and-out striker, Nabbout played as a central striker for the Newcastle Jets in the A-League this season and netted an impressive 10 goals in 22 matches.
The 25-year-old started at centre-forward on his Socceroos debut in Australia’s friendly loss to Norway in March and van Marwijk is confident the now Japan-based attacker can play in that role.
And it’s his versatility which could see the former Melbourne Victory winger earn a spot in the final 23-man squad.
“I’m sure [Andrew] Nabbout can also play as a centre-forward,” van Marwijk said.
“I put him there against Norway, maybe that was not so honest to him because it was the first time for him and [Dimitri] Petratos (for the Socceroos).
“They are a little bit introverted as players but I like them. I put Nabbout in the number 9 position but I did it because I think he can do that.”
Tim Cahill, Australia’s all-time leading goalscorer, has struggled for game time with Millwall in recent months and doubts have been raised about his fitness for the World Cup.
Van Marwijk admitted he wasn’t afraid to make tough decisions with his squad selection but conceded Cahill’s situation was a ‘special case’.
“I had long conversations with Tim in Norway [in the March friendlies] and he is a special case,” van Marwijk told reporters on Monday.
“He is special in everything. He is 38 and maybe one of the best-ever players for Australia. He is a very good striker.
“He doesn’t play [much at the moment], maybe five or 10 or 20 minutes.
“Also he has a problem that he is suspended ([or Millwall] and I have to take a decision whether to take him to the world championship.”
Previously out-of-favour, former Brisbane Roar livewire Jamie Maclaren has rocketed back into contention following an impressive loan spell with Hibernian in the Scottish Premiership.
The 23-year-old joined Hibs from German club SV Darmstadt in January and has since netted 5 goals in 13 appearances, including match-winners against Scottish giants Rangers and Celtic.
Van Marwijk revealed he had been to Scotland to watch Maclaren in action and while impressed with his goal-scoring output, insists that he is looking beyond just raw numbers.
“It’s important that strikers score goals. But I also know very famous strikers who don’t score goals out of nothing for a few months.
“And I will not [not] nominate a striker who I think makes the team better even if he doesn’t score goals at that moment.”
Apostolos Giannou is another centre-forward who van Marwijk has watched in person but an injury has limited the striker’s playing time in recent matches.
The 28-year-old is currently plying his trade in Cyprus with Aek Larnaca and has netted two goals in 11 appearances this season.
“We were there [in Cyprus] but he didn’t play. He only played the last 20-25 minutes because he was injured,” van Marwijk said.
“So that’s not 100% good information. But it’s all we can get and I want to get as much information as I can get.”
Van Marwijk is expected to trim his squad to 26 or 27 players next week before flying off for their pre-FIFA World Cup camp in Turkey.
That’s where the squad will go through a rigorous training regime for three weeks before the Caltex Socceroos boss must settle on his final 23-man squad for the tournament.
Australia opens their FIFA World Cup campaign with a game against France in Kazan on June 16.