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Socceroos Depth Chart: Who is likely to be in Australia's World Cup squad?

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Sometimes, it can be harder to deal with an abundance of possibilities than a paucity of them; a bounty of potential pathways (and ramifications) inducing a paralysing sense of uncertainty and overanalyzing.

Is it a conundrum that can only ever be born from a position of privilege? Absolutely. But just months out from his side facing off with France in the first game of their 2022 men's World Cup campaign, Socceroos coach Graham Arnold is embroiled in such a pickle.

Preparing for a tournament that will define his legacy, how does the 58-year-old, having stunned Peru in a penalty shootout to book a place in Qatar, sort through the player pool that has been developed in recent years to determine the lucky 26 that will receive the honour of calling themselves a World Cup Socceroo?

With the challenges of COVID compounding the general levels of rotation one would expect throughout a qualification campaign, the coach used 48 players during his quest to secure a place at Qatar 2022, including 17 that were making their senior debuts in green and gold.

The early portion of his tenure also saw him take charge of an Olyroos unit that booked a place at the Olympics for the first time since Beijing 2008 and, though that role has now ceased, he has continuously made fostering a pathway between the under-23s and the seniors one of his major priorities. In fact, until World Cup qualification was secured, that was what Arnold saw as his greatest accomplishment with the national teams.

Adding further challenges, players not a part of those two cohorts but that have nonetheless been knocking on the door of the squad will undoubtedly be reinvigorated in their efforts to impress by a chance to play at a World Cup -- the peak of any player's career -- in the months ahead.

And the fabled bolter, a player that emerges from the blue and, through a combination of momentum and a groundswell of support, becomes undeniable, cannot be discounted in a World Cup year.

So many players, so many options, but so few slots for Qatar.

- Jump to: Goalkeepers | Left-back | Centre-back | Right-back | Central midfield | Attacking midfield | Wingers | Strikers

Providing some respite -- as well as a potential lifeline for players on the fringes of his squad -- a small luxury on this front was gained in June when FIFA confirmed that nations would be allowed to bring extended, 26-player squads to the World Cup, three more than the standard 23. Arnold says that, as a result of the changes by FIFA, 16 places in his squad are now realistically still up for grabs in the coming months and that the extra slots would allow him greater scope in approach.

"We can probably take an extra centre-back now in case you want to play three at the back or five at the back," he explained to ESPN.

"Another creative player and maybe another winger or a striker. It depends, again, on who is in form. If someone's doing exceptionally well in a position where you can change the system or the style of play and make a difference."

Though the cliche is that there are never any guarantees when it comes to selection, that Arnold has already penned in 10 players that will -- barring injury -- be on the plane to Qatar shouldn't be surprising. His approach has always been to put his trust in a core group of players within his system and it is widely expected that he will seek to reward the players that bought into his vision and delivered the Socceroos the fifth straight appearance at a World Cup.

If anything, that only 10 players have established themselves solidly in the coach's plans just four months out from the tournament would surprise many but, perhaps, this low number is due to another blessing-turned-curse for the Socceroos boss.

Arnold, having worn the green and gold 56 times himself, has frequently spoken of his affection for his players and his desire to foster a spirit of camaraderie in the team. The squad's messaging in the wake of the Peru upset, taking aim at the doubters both at home and abroad, certainly suggested that an "us against the world" mentality and unity in purpose has been well and truly forged.

But now, the gaffer holds the thankless task of deciding which players, which members of his "Socceroo family," will have their dreams of playing on the biggest stage in world football dashed.

For some, still in the formative stages of their careers, they will be able to regather their thoughts and turn to the 2026 World Cup across North America. But for other, more seasoned players, 2022 may represent their last realistic chance of reaching football's pinnacle. If they haven't been fortunate enough to be on hand in previous campaigns, the phone call that never comes shapes as an utterly devastating blow.

To avoid such a fate, the Socceroos coach is very clear about what needs to be done

"Match minutes are crucial," he told ESPN. "You're going to go into a World Cup where the games are going to go 100 miles an hour. They're every four days -- we play on the 22nd, 26th and the 30th [of November]. So players need to be extremely fit and be able to back up straight away.

"So it's first and foremost match minutes and form. I'm looking at everyone all the time. As long as they're performing well."

So, with all that in mind, what does a potential Socceroos depth chart look like heading into a crucial few months? It's impossible, of course, to know exactly who Arnold has in mind for the tournament, but one can make educated guesses based on factors such as incumbency, familiarity and previous selection policy.

As a result, the higher places on the chart would ostensibly fill themselves. Nonetheless, further down there is scope to pontificate on a few surprises, or muse over a few bolters.

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Goalkeepers

Mat Ryan
Danny Vukovic
Andrew Redmayne
Joe Gauci

The keepers union is arguably the most settled position in the Socceroo squad, with the well-established trio of Ryan, Vukovic, and playoff hero Redmayne all but certain to be the three goalkeepers on the plane to Qatar.

Should injury to one of these three open the door for another, it could come down to the most in-form goalkeeper in the A-League Men; Gauci perhaps having a slight edge over the likes of Lawrence Thomas and Paul Izzo after being called in to train with the squad before March qualifiers.

Left-back

Aziz Behich
Joel King
Jason Davidson

Like the goalkeepers, left-back is a rather settled position for the squad, with Behich the clear number one and King seemingly being groomed by Arnold as his long-term heir apparent. Having received a call-up for the playoff games and secured a move to Belgian side K.A.S. Eupen, Davidson gets the nod as the next man up over the likes of Hull City's Callum Elder and Western United's Ben Garuccio.

Centre-back

Trent Sainsbury
Harry Souttar
Kye Rowles
Bailey Wright
Milos Degenek
Jay Rich-Baghuelou
Ryan McGowan

Arnold is clearly a big fan of Rowles and, in the wake of his move to Scottish side Hearts, he suddenly shapes as the most likely option to slot in next to Sainsbury if Souttar is unable to return to form and fitness from his ACL injury in time. After getting the nod to start in the crucial playoff against Peru, Sunderland's Wright looks to have moved ahead of Degenek, although with five centre-backs likely to be taken to the World Cup, the latter's place in the pecking order isn't a total disaster.

For potential dark horses, Arnold's efforts to establish a pathway from the Olyroos to the Socceroos and his previous luck with utilising giant young defenders may benefit someone like Rich-Baghuelou, especially if he plays regularly at Accrington Stanley.

McGowan, meanwhile, plays his club football in Qatar so is familiar with the landscape, is a well-respected and well-liked member of the dressing room, and has already been relied upon by Arnold as a late call-up he trusts this cycle.

Right-back

Fran Karacic
Nathaniel Atkinson
Lewis Miller

Karacic and Atkinson increasingly loom as the first choice options at right-back for both this World Cup cycle and beyond and both will likely engage in a battle for the starting slot all the way up to the Socceroos' first game against France.

Another potential beneficiary of the Olyroos to Socceroos pathway that Arnold has fostered, a strong campaign with Central Coast last season saw Miller secure a move to Hibernian, which should give him a boost over ALM contenders such as Rhyan Grant and Josh Risdon.

Central Midfield

Aaron Mooy
Jackson Irvine
Denis Genreau
Riley McGree
Gianni Stensness
Kenny Dougall
Connor Metcalfe
James Jeggo
Cameron Devlin
Max Burgess
Jake Brimmer

Mooy looks set to secure a dream move to join Ange Postecoglou at Celtic and is perhaps the safest bet outside the goalkeepers to be amongst the 10 players that Arnold envisions as already locked in for Qatar. Irvine, who made a scoring start to the season over the weekend with German 2. Bundesliga side St Pauli, is another, albeit his strengths haven't always been maximised as well as they can.

The underutilized Genreau should start regularly for newly promoted Ligue 1 side Toulouse and the higher level of competition should allow him to take another step in his development, while McGree should also do so, albeit at a slightly lower level, with Championship side Middlesbrough.

Stensness, Dougall, Metcalfe, and Jeggo have all been featured in the squad throughout this cycle and thus, if they can see regular minutes, can be favoured to retain their places over players such as Devlin, who hasn't been able to break into the squad despite his form with Hearts.

Reigning Johnny Warren Medalist Brimmer and Burgess -- now free of the job share role at Sydney FC with Milos Ninkovic -- are fighting the weight of incumbency and thus will need an excellent start to the ALM season as well as a few breaks to go their way.

Attacking midfield

Ajdin Hrustic
Tom Rogic
Reno Piscopo

Hrustic has emerged as the Socceroos' most important attacking player during this cycle, and will be pivotal to Australia's hopes of staging any kind of surprise in Qatar. He's a no-brainer for selection in the squad and will likely be one of the first names on the team sheet against Les Blues.

Rogic's absence from the squad in the most recent window due to personal reasons and his subsequent hunt for a new club has left most, including Arnold, scratching their heads but he remains one of Australia's most talented players on his day -- even if his ability to deploy alongside Hrustic remains a conundrum.

A dark horse for selection, especially if the Rogic saga drags on, Piscopo has been an Olyroo in the past and, with his move to the attack-minded Newcastle Jets, could be primed for a big opening to the ALM season.

Wingers

Martin Boyle
Mat Leckie
Awer Mabil
Craig Goodwin
Marco Tilio
Ben Folami

Boyle, Leckie, Mabil and Goodwin have all become fixtures in the Socceroos squad, meaning that disaster would likely need to strike for them to miss out.

Both Tilio and Folami have been in recent teams and have been part of Arnold's Olyroos sides but will need to record strong starts to the ALM season, playing plenty of minutes, to bolster any case they have and prevent them from being overhauled by the likes of Lachlan Wales (who was close to selection for the June window), Chris Ikonomidis, Brandon Borrello and Andrew Nabbout. Folami made a good start by shining against Manchester United.

The dynamic between Tilio, Leckie, and Nabbout heading into the 2022-23 season, in particular, looms as a fascinating one. The latter two mostly started over Tilio at Melbourne City during the last ALM campaign and, with minutes for Florin Berenguer also needing to be found, what happens in the attack of Patrick Kisnorbo could have spillover to Qatar.

Strikers

Adam Taggart
Jamie Maclaren
Mitch Duke
Jason Cummings
Nick D'Agostino
Alou Kuol

Taggart, Maclaren, and Duke are all, when healthy, fixtures in this squad and will likely be on the plane to Qatar unless the injury bug bites. Taggart, in particular, has been haunted by ailments in recent years, which is unfortunate given his rare skillset and incorporative abilities.

Assuming that four strikers get the nod in the extended 26-player squad, though, one of the other more intriguing questions surrounding this Socceroo squad as a whole is who gets that extra slot up top?

Entering his prime at 24 years old, D'Agostino was called into the most recent squads, should rack up minutes as the first-choice striker for Victory this ALM season and has been part of Arnold's Olyroos teams in the past.

The absence of Cummings from the squad that secured qualification against Peru was met with dismay at the time and while Australia did make it through those games, they didn't exactly display a lethal attacking intent in doing so. Should he continue his form from the 2021-22 ALM season into 2022-23 and not be picked, the Central Coast striker would have to feel very hard done by.

And then there's Kuol. The excitement machine, now on the books of VfB Stuttgart, reminded Australia of what he was capable of with a spectacular scorpion goal during the recent AFC Under-23 Championships and, if he can secure regular football at a decent level in the coming months, most likely in the form of a loan move, is the most likely player to make a Daniel Arzani-like rise into this squad. There are holes in his game no doubt, but he knows where the goals are.