Pim Verbeek has explained some glaring absences in his latest Socceroos squad by saying he’s made his choices based on recent domestic form and not international reputation.
Just six previously capped players adorn Verbeek’s 21-man travelling party for the opening Asian Cup 2011 qualifier in Jakarta next Wednesday with only two – captain Craig Moore and striker Archie Thompson – possessing any degree of senior international experience.
Top drawer midfielder Jason Culina will come into the Togel Asian Cup qualifying equation at the end of the European season when he joins newcomers Gold Coast United on a three-year marquee deal.
However, that still leaves the Dutchman’s cupboard a little bare for the group games against Indonesia this month and Kuwait in March, forcing his selection of a rookie group of national team L-platers.
The squad includes 33-year-old Melbourne Victory midfielder Tom Pondeljak, who won his previous four Socceroos caps in one spell in 2002, well before the arrival of Verbeek. Queensland’s Matt McKay was also recalled.
But the greater headlines were generated by those players left out. Newcastle’s star turns have clearly been punished for the Jets’ terrible championship defence with twins Joel and Adam Griffiths, Mark Milligan and goalkeeper Ante Covic all omitted.
Milligan and Covic were part of Guus Hiddink’s 2006 World Cup squad with the ‘keeper’s absence particularly confusing given none of Verbeek’s three replacements have previously enjoyed a taste of senior action.
Covic’s Socceroos career is now surely finished.
Adelaide’s Sasa Ognenovski will also never experience playing for the green and gold, with the Melbourne-born central defender heading to K-League club Seongnam Ilhwa at the end of the season expressing a preference to play for Macedonia over than his homeland.
But perhaps the biggest surprise is Sydney midfielder Stuart Musialik’s fall from grace.
Granted the pre-season title favourites saw their hopes of a place in the A-League finals series extinguished by defeat in Queensland over the weekend. But the 23-year-old was expected to win a berth in Verbeek’s party and the snub must be particularly galling.
Musialik had long been whispered as a senior national team figure and was one of seven A-League players called up for Australia’s pre-World Cup qualifier training camp last October. He is the only one of the septet not retained for this squad.
The deep-lying playmaker last week predicted the bottom clubs, of which Sydney have surprisingly been one this year, might not feature heavily in Verbeek’s thinking. But John Kosmina’s side will be represented by first year professional Shannon Cole.
Cole seems highly regarded despite only a recent rise to the top flight in Australia.
Verbeek is a huge fan of his versatility while a Times article by respected football writer Gabriele Marcotti over the weekend placed Cole above the likes of Bruce Djite, James Holland and Matthew Spiranovic as Australian football’s chief rising star.
“It’s one of those things where you hear people say all the time, if you told me this 12 months ago I would have said you were crazy, so it goes without saying that it’s not something that I expected at all or considered,” a breathless Cole revealed.
Perth’s Nikita Rukavytsya is on standby in Europe because he’s in the midst of a month-long trial with FC Twente.
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Danny Vukovic is back from the wilderness after a domestic ban for striking a referee, as is Central Coast Mariners team-mate Dean Heffernan following a horrendous year with injury.
Goalkeepers: Eugene Galekovic, Michael Theoklitos, Danny Vukovic
Defenders: Robert Cornthwaite, Tarek Elrich, Dean Heffernan, Scott Jamieson, Craig Moore, Matt Thompson, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Rodrigo Vargas
Midfielders: Billy Celeski, Shannon Cole, Matt McKay, Tom Pondeljak, Paul Reid, Michael Zullo
Strikers: Daniel Allsopp, Dylan Macallister, Matt Simon, Archie Thompson