Predicting the Socceroos squad for the 2026 World Cup

Australia's World Cup run to inspire a generation (1:21)

The National Curriculum's Joshua Parish thinks the Socceroos will inspire a new generation of Australian soccer fans despite World Cup exit. (1:21)

The 2022 World Cup has ended for the Socceroos. Now, the 2026 cycle begins.

Yes, in football, there is always something being built towards, news to be broken, or games to be staged. It's perhaps the closest thing that humankind has come to creating a perpetual motion machine, and while coach Graham Arnold is adamant in his need for a holiday, his players will get no such luxury.

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The majority of leagues around the world will resume in the coming weeks -- the A-League Men's resumes on Dec. 9 -- and with it, the hopes of getting a chance to press one's case for coming continental competitions and then the ultimate prize, a World Cup, begin anew.

This task is made harder, of course, by the fact that it is not yet known if it is Arnold who will be leading the Socceroos in the years ahead or a newly hired coach with their unique philosophy, approach, and personnel needs.

Nonetheless, with an emphasis on players who will be in their primes come 2026 and players making their way through Australia's junior national teams, here's a look at who could be in the mix for selection come to the opening whistle of the world's biggest sporting event in four years.

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Mathew Ryan: At just 30 years old, the Socceroos captain is still relatively spry going by goalkeeping standards and, given his status in the national setup, disaster would have to strike for him to not be involved in some capacity in four years. His retention of the starting berth will likely depend on the former Blacktown junior being able to find a club situation that allows him to play consistent football in the years ahead rather than languish on the bench. Avoiding toxic teammates will also help.

Joe Gauci: After serving as a train-on player with the Socceroos during recent camps, the Adelaide United shot-stopper already appears to be shaping up as part of the generational change from current World Cup backups Andrew Redmayne (33) and Danny Vukovic (37). On his current trajectory, the 22-year-old gloveman will have likely made a move overseas by the time the next World Cup rolls around and it will be important for him to be smart in choosing a destination that allows him to continue playing.

Lawrence Thomas: Made his Socceroos debut during the previous World Cup cycle and at just 30 years old he still has time to put together a Redmayne-like resume for 2026. Key in determining that will be how long he stays with his new club Western Sydney Wanderers and, if he lays down roots in Wanderland, how the next Socceroos coach perceives the domestic competition.

Tom Glover: Glover's chances at a role at the 2026 World Cup will receive a boost if Arnold returns for the coming cycle, as the coach used the 24-year-old as his first-choice keeper throughout his time at the Olyroos helm. After a shaky 2021-22 ALM campaign, the arrival of goalkeeping coach Mike van Houten at Melbourne City this season has, based on early signs, righted the ship.

Smokies: Paul Izzo (Melbourne Victory), James Delianov (Adelaide United), Nicholas Bilokapic (Huddersfield Town), Jack Warshawsky (Western Sydney Wanderers)


Nathaniel Atkinson: An easy choice, Atkinson was trusted by Arnold to start against France and superstar Kylian Mbappe in the Socceroos' opening game of the tournament and, while that didn't go well for him, he'll hopefully be wiser for the experience. At just 23 years old and now settled at Hearts, the next four years will likely see the Tasmanian only go from strength to strength as a footballer.

Fran Karacic: Karacic will be 30 years old by the time the next World Cup comes around but, given that Aziz Behich just started all four games in Qatar at 31, that's not a debilitating factor. The key for the Croatia-born defender to maintain his spot in the national setup will be consistent minutes free from injury. Loyal to a fault, Arnold continued to pick him despite numerous stints on the sideline with knocks and long COVID during the past cycle, but it can't be guaranteed he or a new coach will show the same levels of commitment in years ahead.

Ryan Strain: Just missed out on selection for Qatar and 25 years old, Strain still has time to make another run at a World Cup. Playing well for Scottish side St Mirren, Strain's next goal will be breaking the Atkinson-Karacic duopoly at the Asian Cup to be played in early 2024.

Smokies: Josh Rawlins (FC Utrecht), Lewis Miller (Hibernian)


Harry Souttar: A lock. Will likely be a Premier League defender by 2026 and one of the foundations of the Socceroos -- potentially even a captain.

Kye Rowles: Starting every game at Qatar 2022, Rowles will likely be given the first shot at establishing a long-standing centre-back pairing with Souttar heading into the next cycle. Consistent form for Hearts and avoidance of further injury will be key, and Arnold returning would help as well.

Thomas Deng: Desperately unlucky not to play any minutes in Qatar, Deng's versatility will always be an asset to any coach. He finally began to put some consistent football together towards the end of the last Japanese season, and he's primed to kick on in the years ahead with his club Albirex Niigata having been promoted to the J1 League.

Milos Degenek: Will be 32 in 2026 but, given that he's established himself as the Socceroos' mentality monster and Arnold himself has said he's the most physically resilient player in the team, you'd be backing him to still have what it physically takes to take part.

Jay Rich-Baghuelou: Is on the long-term injury list at Accrington Stanley, but if he can get back healthy and start playing regular football in England, he could develop into a fearsome prospect in 2026 -- when his near two-metre tall frame will be in its physical prime at 27-years-old.

Smokies: Gianni Stensness (Viking FK), Alessandro Circati (Parma), Alexandar Popovic (Adelaide United), Dan Hall (Central Coast Mariners), Kai Trewin (Brisbane Roar), Hosine Bility (CD Mafra), Mark Natta (Newcastle Jets)


Jordy Bos: The young Melbourne City flyer has got off to a barnstorming start this ALM season and, if his form holds, it's difficult to see how he won't be knocking on the door of the Socceroos come to the next Asian Cup. Should he continue to improve and make good choices about the next step in his professional career, he has the talent to be right in the mix in 2026.

Joel King: Seemingly being groomed as Behich's long-term replacement by Arnold, King's chances of nailing down the role will be significantly strengthened if the 59-year-old remains in charge of the Socceroos heading into the next cycle. Regardless of who coaches, though, he needs to sort out his club situation and find a way to start playing regular minutes, be it at Odense Boldklub or elsewhere.

Alex Gersbach: Gersbach is a six-time Socceroos but hasn't featured for the national team since playing seven minutes off the bench in a friendly with Kuwait back in the early days of Arnold's reign in 2018. At 25, time is running out for the Sutherland-born defender to mount a case for consistent minutes at the senior level, a quest that will start with putting a strong run of form for Ligue 2 side Grenoble.

Smokies: Jacob Farrell (Central Coast Mariners), Aziz Behich (Dundee United)


Denis Genreau: Missed out on selection for Qatar due to a lack of minutes at clubland and has since picked up an injury, but the attributes that make the 23-year-old unique to his contemporaries mean that there should be continued faith in his development. With an extended run of minutes under his belt and trust from his manager, the Parisian-born midfielder can be a real difference-maker. Those minutes, however, are key and he needs to find them, be they at his current home of Toulouse or elsewhere.

Keanu Baccus: Was given the job on Lionel Messi by Arnold and, for half an hour kept the legendary Argentine mostly quiet. Admittedly, Messi might have subsequently found a yard of space and made him pay, but Baccus isn't the first and won't be the last to feel that. With that experience in tow, the South Africa-born holder will now return to St Mirren with a chance to kick on and, almost certainly, with the eyes of a few more clubs following him.

Cameron Devlin: Disappointingly, Devlin didn't see any action in Qatar, but he'll nonetheless return to Hearts wiser for the experience. While diminishing returns will eventually hit, his development since landing in Edinburgh has been substantial and it wouldn't be surprising to see him earn a move south shortly. If he can keep getting minutes at clubland, 2026 looms.

Jackson Irvine: Irvine will be 33 when the next World Cup rolls around and, given his high-energy style of game, he might not age as well as others. However, he earns his place on this list thanks to his undeniable leadership and ability to create a positive environment both in and around the Socceroos.

Connor Metcalfe: Irvine's teammate at St Pauli, Metcalfe's lack of minutes in the German second-tier saw him miss out on Qatar but, given that he's still finding his feet, that perhaps wasn't too big a surprise. Called up on several occasions by Arnold during qualifying he shapes as Irvine's potential heir-apparent in the squad.

Tyrese Francois: Called up to the Socceroos' squad for their World Cup warm-up friendlies against New Zealand but not seeing the field, Francois became the latest Australian to log Premier League minutes with Fulham this season before being shipped out on loan to Croatian side Gorica.

Smokies: Calem Nieuwenhof (Western Sydney Wanderers), Cameron Peupion (Brighton & Hove Albion), Louis D'Arrigo (Adelaide United), Kenny Dougall (Blackpool), Angus Thurgate (Newcastle Jets)

Attacking midfielders

Ajdin Hrustic: Missed the opening game of the World Cup with fitness issues and by the time he was back and ready to play extended minutes, Australia's form and Arnold's sense of loyalty meant that he sat behind Riley McGree on the bench. Will be 30 in 2026 but will almost certainly remain one of the squad's most skilled players.

Riley McGree: Started all four games in Qatar and will now head back to Championship side Middlesbrough with a newfound sense of momentum. Assuming he continues to log consistent minutes with Boro, his World Cup appearances could help lay the groundwork for a move to a bigger league soon.

Smokies: Jake Brimmer (Melbourne Victory), Jacob Italiano (Borussia Monchengladbach)


Garang Kuol: By 2026, Kuol will have, in a perfect world, progressed through Newcastle United's youth system, made his debut for the Magpies and become the most notable Australian in the English top-flight since Aaron Mooy. Oh, and he'll be banging them in for the Socceroos. That's a lot of weight to put on the teen's shoulders, but he's managed everything else put there to now.

Daniel Arzani: Wasn't able to put together a strong enough start to the A-League Men season to force his way into the Socceroos squad for Qatar, but now has the next four years to put together a consistent run of minutes and show Australia, and then the rest of the world, the significant talent he still possesses.

Awer Mabil: After coming into the tournament struggling for minutes at his Spanish club Cadiz, Mabil fell behind Craig Goodwin in the pecking order in Qatar and hardly featured as a result. However, at 27 years old, Mabil likely has one more World Cup in him if he's able to finally nail down consistent minutes at club level.

Marco Tilio: Another one who didn't play a single minute in Qatar, albeit Tilio was likely happy to be there at all given he was a late injury replacement for Martin Boyle, the 21-year-old will nonetheless have taken wisdom from the experience. The biggest question facing him going forward is the one that dogged him during the lead into the World Cup: is he going to play enough minutes to justify a place in the Socceroos and keep his development moving in the right direction?

Smokies: Mathew Leckie (Melbourne City), Ben Folami (Melbourne Victory), Brandon Borrello (Western Sydney Wanderers), Lachlan Brook (Brentford), Ramy Najjarine (Western Sydney Wanderers), Bernardo Oliveira (Adelaide United), Nestory Irankunda (Adelaide United), Tristan Hammond (Austria Vienna)


Jamie Maclaren: Maclaren will be 32 in 2026 but it's likely that significant parts of his skill-set, particularly his sense of being in the right place at the right time, will age well. And given Australia's consistent struggles at developing No. 9s, it's likely that he'll have a place at the tournament if he can keep banging them in.

Jason Cummings: Cummings will be 31, the same age that Mitchell Duke is now, when 2026 rolls around and if he can keep up his focus and discipline on the Central Coast -- a place he seems to absolutely love and has no desire to leave -- then there's no reason he can't go around again in four years.

Nick D'Agostino: Capped by Arnold during the qualifiers when a wave of unavailabilities hit the Socceroos, the time is now for D'Agostino to stand up and demand a consistent place in the national side. Otherwise, it might never happen.

Mohamed Toure: Currently plugging away in the youth team of French side Stade de Reims, Toure has fallen a little off the radar since his move to Europe but he remains a strong prospect.

Alou Kuol: His younger brother has stolen all the headlines, but Kuol is still playing away in the youth system of Stuttgart and, if he's able to make a breakthrough and play consistent minutes, a Socceroos berth is almost certainly on its way.

Smokies: Kusini Yengi (Western Sydney Wanderers), Patrick Wood (Sydney FC), Noah Botic (Western United), Archie Goodwin (Newcastle Jets), Max Caputo (Melbourne City)