Socceroos dealt a TRUE WEEK injury with a doubting star for Qatar – although Graham Arnold has welcomed two key defenders
Socceroos coach Graham Arnold’s World Cup squad headache is quickly turning into a migraine with protagonist Ajdin Hrustic, the latest player to have an injury problem at the worst possible time.
With just 33 days until Australia’s opening game in Qatar against the mighty France, Hrustic rolled his ankle when he played for Italian Serie A outfit Hellas Verona in their 2-1 loss to Milan this weekend.
The 26-year-old attacking midfielder won the Europa League last season with Eintracht Frankfurt and was Australia’s main playmaker in qualifying in the absence of Tom Rogic.
Australia’s Ajdin Hrustic challenged by Peru’s Renato Tapia in their World Cup playoff
Hrustic celebrates with teammate Nathaniel Atkinson after scoring against the 2-1 lead during the FIFA World Cup 2022 Asian Qualifiers playoff between the UAE and Australia
Verona said he won’t be eligible for selection until after the World Cup, so the best scenario for Hrustic is to enter the Australian Group D opener in Qatar, after five weeks with no games and little training.
It gives Arnold plenty to think about whether he’s risking a potentially ill-prepared Hrustic on his starting squad or looking at other options such as Rogic – who now plays for England’s championship team West Bromwich Albion – or Riley McGree.
While both are quality options, neither player gets big minutes, with McGree playing a limited role for a Middlesbrough side that had slipped into England’s second-tier relegation zone.
Rogic is back for West Bromwich Albion after qualifying Socceroos in June for personal reasons
Rogic appears to be the logical replacement, but he remains on the outside after leaving the Socceroos camp ahead of crucial World Cup qualifier wins over the UAE and Peru for ‘personal reasons’ in June.
He was overlooked in the two recent friendlies against New Zealand and has a slim chance of impressing at West Bromwich Albion.
“He needs competitions and competitive fitness to be selected for Qatar,” Arnold said in August.
While Arnold will have a headache on the offensive end, his supplies in the defense line have been boosted by the return of Harry Souttar.
It has been a race against time for the towering defender since he tore his ACL playing for Australia late last year. But with a big boost, he will return for Stoke City in two weeks.
Coach Graham Arnold has a lot of selection headaches ahead of the November World Cup
‘There is good news – Harry [Souttar] played 45 minutes [on Monday] for the Stoke City team under 23,” he said on SEN’s The Global Game.
‘He will play 60 minutes on Saturday, I have’ [assistant] Rene Meulensteen in the UK and he went to see him.
“He hasn’t lost any of his speed and mobility, he looks very good. He plays 60 minutes on weekends.
Stoke City were fantastic with their communication and [they’ve said] they will put him back in the first team selection the following week.’
Souttar (23) celebrates his goal with defender Bailey Wright (20) and midfielder Jackson Irvine (22) during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier football match between Australia and Nepal
In addition, Arnold announced that fellow Socceroos defender Kyle Rowles was back on the run and would be ready for the World Cup in November.
Rowles was impressive in Socceroos’ two play-off games in June, but suffered a foot injury while playing for Scottish club Hearts.
“He needs to have a scan to check (for his injury), so once he gets that clearance, he’ll be training the following week,” Arnold said.
‘There are still a few weeks to go, so both [Rowles and Souttar] have a chance to get some playing time.’