Why Rogic might miss the cut against France

He boasts a newly-minted five-year contract with Celtic and conjured yet more goals from his magician’s playbook as the Hoops stormed to a historic double treble in Scotland.

Yet there’s a very real possibility that Tom Rogic - arguably the most naturally blessed Australian of his generation - could find himself on the bench for Australia's 2018 FIFA World Cup opener in Kazan on June 16.

To some that might be sacrilege, to others a necessary sacrifice in pursuit of unleashing an Australia with the best hope of somehow staring down and stifling the multi-gifted Les Bleus, who will view anything less than a semi-final spot in Russia as abject failure.

While the 25-year-old’s creative qualities are unquestioned, the conundrum faced by coach Bert van Marwijk is balancing Rogic’s penchant for the impertinent and the unpredictable with the more prosaic aspects of what’s required of a nominal number 10.

The Dutchman has Sunday morning’s (AEST) final dry run against Hungary in Budapest to fine-tune his formation for France - and answer any lingering questions still nagging at him.

But, as sure as tulips bloom in the Netherlands in April, the Dutchman will want to counter Didier Deschamp’s star-encrusted line-up with durability and dependability, rather than looking to play a risky hand of flair and artistic flourishes.

Kicking off Australia’s Group C campaign in Russia on a positive note is his overarching priority.

That's likely to mean a three-pronged midfield including skipper Mile Jedinak - rested for last Friday’s 4-0 rout of the Czech Republic - for his enduring leadership qualities as much as anything else.

With Jedinak screening the back four, the excellent and ever-adaptable Aaron Mooy would likely be deployed alongside him, with the pair in the No.6 and No.8 roles.

That’s where things could get tricky for Rogic, with van Marwijk an avowed fan of Massimo Luongo; the no-nonsense foil for Mooy against the Czechs in their dual holding roles.

Luongo, though, is also more than capable of being deployed as the most advanced of a midfield trio, as he showed to great effect in his free-ranging man of the match performance in March’s goalless draw against Colombia, where his footwork and finesse complimented his more combative qualities.

Ball retention by the green and gold will be more paramount than ever against a France team laden with an explosive attacking trio, plus a tireless midfield including Manchester United’s Paul Pogba and Chelsea’s N’Goto Kante.

All of which points to Rogic, whose patchy performance against the Czechs did little to promote his cause, being the one to miss out.

While his seven goals in 33 appearances for Australia have included several memorable improvisations from long range, Rogic’s tendency to at times dwell too long in possession and be forced into turnovers is a part of his game that needs burnishing.

Being dispossessed in a central position against France, with Pogba or perhaps Kante capitalizing, could see either one quickly switch gears into attacking mode by feeding a ravenous forward such as Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé or Thomas Lemar.

Olivier Giroud is another option for Deschamps. But you get the gist.

It’s a scenario the Socceroos coaching staff will be all too aware of as they concoct a game plan to disrupt the French.

And whether Rogic fits into that plan is something which has probably already been taken into account and keenly analysed.

Barring injuries against Hungary, it seems van Marwijk will stay loyal to the back four of a fast-improving Josh Risdon, Trent Sainsbury, Mark Milligan and Aziz Behich - all of whom looked largely solid and composed against the lacklustre Czechs.

The two wide spots look safe in the hands of Mathew Leckie, who fired an impressive double against the Czechs, and the oft-maligned Robbie Kruse.

That leaves the central striking role to be decided, with the raw and pacy Andrew Nabbout doing himself no harm with his excellent angled finish in Vienna for his maiden international goal.

Fit-again Tomi Juric provides another option as a more traditional target man and could start in Budapest, with both Tim Cahill and Jamie Maclaren also looking to mop up some minutes before boarding the flight to Russia.

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4 min read
Published 6 June 2018 at 6:29pm
By Dave Lewis