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Australia coach Arnold to give A-League hopefuls time to impress

MELBOURNE :Australia coach Graham Arnold is far from settled on his Asian Cup squad and will give home-based players more time to prove themselves and show form in the A-League.

Arnold included Melbourne City striker Jamie Maclaren in his squad on Thursday for the Socceroos’ opening World Cup qualifiers against Bangladesh and Palestine, one of only four A-League players in the 23.

Though his immediate focus is on Bangladesh in Melbourne in a week’s time, Arnold said he would sit back and watch the domestic league before shaping his roster for the Jan. 12 – Feb. 10 Asian Cup in Qatar.

“The A-League’s only three games in and then they’re going to have another 10-day break for a FIFA (international) window, which is great because then the players are free for that,” he told reporters at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.

“I’ve pretty much just gone the last six months with overseas-based players because the A-League hasn’t been playing.

“It’s hard to speak to the players about that because then you’re taking away their opportunity to play for the nation.

“But they’ve got the time now to show me before the Asian Cup.”

Having won two games to reach the last 16 at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the nation’s best showing at the global showpiece, Australia kick off a 16-game stretch to earn a spot at the 2026 finals in North America against world number 183 Bangladesh.

The Socceroos then play Palestine five days later in Kuwait, the Gulf nation hosting the match due to the Israel-Hamas war.

Arnold said he had “complete trust and faith” in governing body Football Australia, which agreed to the neutral venue.

“That was a conversation obviously with the FA and the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) and Palestine because it’s their home game,” he said.

He also shrugged off concerns that the crowd in Kuwait could throw their support behind the Palestine team and create a more hostile atmosphere for the Socceroos.

“We will be ready for that,” Arnold said.

Australia start the qualifying cycle with a young squad lacking a single player competing in the top European leagues.

Midfield stalwarts Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic have retired, while experienced defender Milos Degenek was not included because of a lack of minutes at Red Star Belgrade, along with Italy-based midfielder Ajdin Hrustic.

Melbourne City winger Mathew Leckie is also out injured.

Arnold included uncapped striker Kusini Yengi, who has been among the goals for English third tier club Portsmouth since crossing from A-League side Western Sydney in the off-season.

The 24-year-old Yengi is one of only two uncapped players, the other being Charlton Athletic goalkeeper Ashley Maynard-Brewer, who joins rookie keeper Joe Gauci in the Mat Ryan-captained squad.

“Time changes things,” said Arnold.

“It’s important we build younger players and give them the opportunity.

“It’s not just about today, it’s also about the future.”

Australia squad:

Goalkeepers: Mat Ryan (capt), Joe Gauci, Ashley Maynard-Brewer

Defenders: Aziz Behich, Jordy Bos, Cameron Burgess, Alessandro Circati, Lewis Miller, Kye Rowles, Harry Souttar, Ryan Strain

Midfielders: Keanu Baccus, Jackson Irvine, Massimo Luongo, Connor Metcalfe, Aiden O’Neill

Forwards: Brandon Borrello, Martin Boyle, Mitch Duke, Craig Goodwin, Jamie Maclaren, Sam Silvera, Kusini Yengi

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