The lingering question over Jedinak giving cause for concern

The question of whether Mile Jedinak would be leading Australia at this World Cup has swung back and forth like a pendulum in the past three years.

Mile Jedinak

Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak may miss out on a starting berth against France Source: TASS

For many critics, there was a feeling that Jedinak’s best days might have crept past him and that, at 33, he would be unlikely to be in the kind of shape that would warrant him starting in Russia.

However, such were his performances in both legs of the play-off against Honduras that it suddenly became impossible to imagine a World Cup midfield without him. He stood head and shoulders above all others.

Away from home, in San Pedro Sula, he kept the Socceroos calm and composed in hostile territory, breaking down everything Honduras put together. In the home leg, he did the same, and scored a hat-trick. And his stock couldn’t have been higher.

Added to Jedinak’s strong season with Aston Villa in the English Championship, it seemed only natural that he would be among the first names on the team sheet here in Russia.

But having been overlooked for a starting role in Australia’s final two World Cup warm-up matches, Jedinak’s position suddenly looks far from assured. He came on as a substitute against Hungary but played no role against the Czech Republic.

The official communication has centred on the need to give him extra rest, having been involved all the way through the Championship season and into the play-offs.

However, that rest will total three weeks between the play-off final and the opening game against France, with only training duties and the cameo against Hungary.

It’s hard to tell whether Jedinak needed the rest or Bert van Marwijk genuinely wants to experiment with other options. Most likely there is truth in both. Jedinak was also one of four players who missed the first training session in Kazan, although he trained the next day.

The beneficiary could well be Massimo Luongo. Although he is a very different from Jedinak, Luongo is clearly a long-term option in the midfield. He started both of the friendlies that Jedinak missed, which may prove telling in the race to partner Aaron Mooy.

Luongo has impressed under van Marwijk, works incredibly hard and has the skills to provide a threat when on the ball going forward. His performance against Colombia was irresistible and he covers every blade of grass with great tenacity.

But it may not be as simple as a choice between the two. They might even be able to play together if the Dutchman feels a more defensive midfield block is the answer to France’s lethal mobility.

That could spell trouble for Tom Rogic, whose recent displays have been mixed, especially when compared to how he played for Celtic in recent months.

Unlocking his talents is critical to the Socceroos’ chances of progressing. Rogic is certain to play a major role in Russia, for his unique attributes mean he is a serious threat for any opponent.

However, there is an argument to say that he is most effective when allowed to run at tiring defences, rather than having to undertake the defensive work that a 90-minute shift would entail.

Ultimately, three into two can’t fit, and whatever the line-up, it should give us a window into how van Marwijk sees Australia's best opportunity.

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3 min read
Published 13 June 2018 at 7:44am
By Sebastian Hassett in Kazan