Selection dilemmas loom large for Socceroos

With the Socceroos needing a win against Peru on Tuesday afternoon (Wednesday morning AEST), plus France to beat Denmark and favourable goal difference, coach Bert van Marwijk has a few selection headaches.

Van Marwijk appears to prefer stability over change.

Australia’s line-up against Denmark was identical to that which faced France.

The coach’s three substitutions were likewise a repeat of the first match-day.

For the nine Australian players yet to see action at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, van Marwijk’s preference must be a source of private frustration.

Nor does the Dutchman much like talking about his selection decisions.

Time and again in press conferences over the past two weeks, van Marwijk has pointedly refused to answer any question touching on tactics.

“You can ask me those questions 100 times,” he snapped in response to a fairly innocuous query about stopping Christian Eriksen ahead of the Denmark match.

Despite 31 other coaches at the World Cup being happy to discuss their approaches and player selections, to greater and lesser extents, the topic has become taboo under the new Socceroos regime.

But van Marwijk is going to have to get used to both change and accountability in the coming days.

Andrew Nabbout’s dislocated shoulder will force at least one new selection, even if the striker optimistically suggested that he could play through the pain.

With Tomi Juric failing to fire in his two substitute appearances, van Marwijk might have to consider Jamie Maclaren – who was a late inclusion in the squad but had a strong club season – or a broader forward-line reshuffle.

Robbie Kruse, meanwhile, had a torrid evening against Denmark on the flank and may see his starting XI spot in jeopardy.

Although Kruse’s work rate is ever-impressive and the Bochum player has only recently returned from injury, his first touch was woeful and it contributed to the disruption of several opportunities.

The gruelling 3 matches in 10 days schedule may also necessitate tinkering.

Tom Rogic was Australia’s best player against Denmark but has struggled with stamina in the past.

Mile Jedinak has put in two immense shifts for the Socceroos, but at 33 is no longer as mobile as he once was – something the fatigue will not help.

With Massimo Luongo and Jackson Irvine waiting patiently on the bench until now, could a new face in midfield be in order?

That leaves the two thorniest of selection issues: Daniel Arzani and Tim Cahill.

Arzani made a significant impact after his introduction, speeding past or around Denmark defenders on multiple occasions.

Van Marwijk has previously expressed reservations about starting Arzani at the FIFA World Cup.

But he was less definitive on Thursday, afterwards offering simply: “I will see what I do for him next game.”

The youngest player at the tournament provides van Marwijk with an unenviable dilemma.

Start him, and there is a risk he won’t have the same impact against fresher opposition legs.

Don’t start him, and Australia’s most exciting attacking talent at this tournament to date is absent for most of a must-win, must-score match.

Finally, Cahill. Thousands of words have already been spilt on his absence from the pitch to date.

Unless van Marwijk performs a dramatic about-face, the chances of Cahill starting are slim.

But Nabbout’s injury and the forced elevation of Juric or Maclaren opens up a slot from the bench.

Super sub Cahill once more?

If Australia fail to beat Peru, Australians will justifiably demand answers.

The excuses are already written.

Van Marwijk arrived on a short-term contract, taking over a squad short on star-power, and has led his side to two creditable performances.

But football coaches are judged on their results.

Whatever the nature of his team’s performances, van Marwijk’s tenure will have been a failure if the Socceroos do not progress to the round of 16 – the standard benchmark for FIFA World Cup teams.

Scrutiny of the Dutchman’s approach will be warranted, and his refusal to engage in that dialogue would represent an abdication of his responsibilities.

It has been said, in a quote often misattributed to Albert Einstein, that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Twice now at this FIFA World Cup the Socceroos have laboured admirably for the same result: no goals from open play.

Indeed, penalties and free-kicks aside, Australia have not scored in competitive football since Cahill found the net against Syria in the continental play-off.

They may have played well against France and Denmark, but a repeat of the past two performances will not be enough for the Socceroos.

Australia need goals and victory against Peru.

Let’s hope van Marwijk is no mad man.

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5 min read
Published 23 June 2018 at 7:18am
By Kieran Pender