A new Socceroos era begins on Saturday when Bert van Marwijk takes charge of his first game in Oslo, against Norway, before a friendly with Colombia in London on Wednesday AEDT.
The clock is now ticking until the World Cup in Russia, and the Dutchman, who knows what it takes to make it to a World Cup final thanks to his exploits with Holland, losing in extra-time to Spain in 2010, has three months to infuse Australia’s national side with the game plan to get past France, Peru and Denmark and beyond the tournament’s group stages.
It is a formidable task, and the short-term national team boss, who will be replaced by Graham Arnold for the long-term, has already spoken about the time constraints he is under to both get to know who Australia’s best 23 players are, and for them to understand the way he wants them to play.
While Australia once again enters the World Cup with fresh ideas, after Ange Postecoglou took over from sacked Holger Osieck before Brazil, it’s a stark contrast to four years ago, where Postecoglou arrived wielding an axe with half an eye on this very moment.
TRAINING DAY ONE: Bert’s first Ange change-up as Socceroos meet new boss
TRAINING DAY TWO: Bert’s rave reviews after Roos star’s training mishap
POSITION BY POSITION: The biggest surprise in Bert’s early Socceroos shake-up
This time, van Marwijk is arriving, fresh from coaching against Australia with Saudi Arabia, who finished above the Socceroos in World Cup qualifying, ready to make the most of the experience the likes of Aaron Mooy, Mat Ryan, Mathew Leckie, Trent Sainsbury and Tomi Juric now have in their kitbags after being thrown in the deep end, building towards this moment.
Time is of the essence for a boss with a very immediate mandate, which is much of the reason why the Socceroos will not be returning home for a farewell game before heading to Russia. Like cramming for an exam, van Marwijk needs every moment possible on the park with his new group.
Joined by his long time assistants – son-in-law Mark van Bommel and Roel Coumans, as well as Olyroos boss Ante Milicic – van Marwijk will add a steely resolve and street smarts; it will be intriguing to look at the subtle changes in the way the side lines up, as well as the more noticeable likely difference, the formation.
Postecoglou finished with the infamous three-man defensive formation that polarised opinion but it is difficult to see van Marwijk adopting anything but a 4-2-3-1 shape to begin proceedings. Whether that includes the non-negotiable penchant for possession that Postecoglou preached is one of the key talking points. Reports from training in Oslo suggest he has been demanding crisp, high paced passing – but we’ll see on the weekend just how that will be executed.
The 65-year-old has flagged that he will try and get a look at as many of the 26 members of the squad as possible over the two games, although it is all but confirmed that Matthew Jurman and Trent Sainsbury will only be in the camp for a meet and greet and to keep up to speed with the instructions delivered. Both are on the mend from injury and won’t be risked.
This is a genuine clean slate to stake claims for selection. The inclusions of Andrew Nabbout and Dimitri Petratos are clear demonstrations of that, as they present fresh, unique additions to an attacking squad and will have players like James Troisi and Nikita Rukavystya know they need to be at their best to retain their places going forward.
In the same vein, Brad Jones’ inclusion at Mitchell Langerak’s expense highlights that no hitherto squad regular is safe, and no dream is over. Just ask 22-year-old central defender Aleksandar Susnjar, who has come from nowhere – well, Mlada Boleslav in Czech Republic, more precisely – and can brace himself for minutes in the next two games, alongside either Bailey Wright or Milos Degenek in the heart of Australia’s defence. Recommended by his under-23s boss Milicic, all fringe young Australians will look at the Olyroo as motivation that a World Cup spot still might not be a pipedream.
Australia v Norway at the Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo
Saturday 24 March, 4am AEDT, with coverage on Fox Sports 503 HD beginning from 3.30am.
The Scandinavian outfit have been chosen given Australia plays neighbour Denmark in Russia. The world No.56 will not be at the World Cup, but still have a number of players to watch.
The most interesting name on the team sheet is 19-year-old Martin Odegaard; he is now at Heerenveen on loan, but was a global headline when he was signed by Real Madrid, and became the youngest ever senior international when he debuted at 15 years and 253 days in a friendly against the UAE.
Former Arsenal and West Ham defender Havard Nordtveit and Fulham’s Stefan Johansen also included.
One player to miss out is Bournemouth’s King, who has cut from the squad after previously being called up. Also not making the cut is Haitam Aleesami (Palermo) and Crystal Palace’s Alexander Sorloth.
The last clash between the sides was in 2004, where Tim Cahill and Josip Skoko helped Australia to a 2-2 draw in London. It is the third meeting a senior level; in 1997, a Robbie Hooker goal gave the Socceroos a 1-0 win in Sydney.
Sten Grytebust, Rune Jarstein, Orjan Nyland, Tore Reginiussen, Havard Nordtveit, Kristoffer Vassbakk Ajer, Sigurd Rosted, Jonas Svensson, Birger Meling, Omar Eladellaoui, Martin Linnes, Mohamed Elyounoussi, Martin Odegaard, Stefan Johansen, Bjorn Maars Johnsen, Tarik Elyounoussi, Iver Fossum, Markus Henriksen, Kristian Selnaes, Mats Moller Daehli, Fredrik Midtsjo
Australia v Colombia at Craven Cottage, London
Wednesday 28 March, 6am AEDT, with coverage on Fox Sports 501 beginning from 5.30am.
This is a tantalising challenge for the Socceroos, with the World No.13 providing a serious gauge for van Marwijk.
They have a squad laced with household names, headlined by James Rodriguez, a star of the last World Cup, who is now on loan at Bayern Munich from Real Madrid. Striker Radamel Falcao, goalkeeper David Ospina, Sevilla’s Luis Muriel, Villarreal striker Carlos Bacca and new Barcelona signing Yerry Mina are all impressive inclusions, while goalkeeper Mat Ryan will come up against a familiar face in Brighton teammate Jose Izquierdo who returns to the national team fold after an eight month absence.
It is the first meeting between the two nations since 2001, where goals from Steve Corica and Scott Chipperfield were not enough in a 3-2 loss in Bogota. It is the fourth clash at senior level, with a 1995 double header in Brisbane (0-0) and Sydney (1-0 to Colombia).
Goalkeepers: David Ospina (Arsenal/ENG), Camilo Vargas (Deportivo Cali) Defenders: Cristian Zapata (AC Milan/ITA), Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham/ENG), Jefferson Lerma (Levante/ESP), Yerry Mina (Barcelona/ESP), Johan Mojica (Sporting Gijon/ESP), Bernardo Espinosa (Sporting Gijon/ESP), Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven/NED), Oscar Murillo (Pachuca/MEX), Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors/ARG) Midfielders: Jose Heriberto Izquierdo (Brighton/ENG), James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich/GER), Carlos Sanchez (Espanyol/ESP), Giovanni Moreno (Shanghai Shenhua/CHN), Mateus Uribe (America/MEX), Wilmar Barrios (Boca Juniors/ARG), Juan Fernando Quintero (River Plate/ARG), Abel Aguilar (Deportivo Cali), Victor Cantillo (Junior) Forwards: Duvan Zapata (Sampdoria/ITA), Carlos Bacca (Villarreal/ESP), Luis Fernando Muriel (Sevilla/ESP), Radamel Falcao (Monaco/FRA), Miguel Borja (Palmeiras/BRA), Yimmi Chara (Junior)
Mat Ryan (Brighton and Hove Albion FC, England), Danny Vukovic (KRC Genk, Belgium), Brad Jones (Feyenoord, Holland)
Aziz Behich (Bursaspor, Turkey), Milos Degenek (Yokohama F. Marinos, Japan), Matthew Jurman (Suwon Bluewings, Korea), James Meredith (Millwall, England), Josh Risdon (Western Sydney), Trent Sainsbury (Grasshoppers Zurich, Switzerland), Aleksandar Susnjar (FK Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic), Bailey Wright (Bristol City, England)
Josh Brillante (Sydney FC), Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa, England), Jackson Irvine (Hull, England), Massimo Luongo (Queens Park Rangers, England), Mark Milligan (Al Ahli, Saudi Arabia), Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield, England), Tom Rogic (Celtic, Scotland), James Troisi (Melbourne Victory)
Tim Cahill (MIllwall, England), Tomi Juric (FC Luzern, Switzerland), Robbie Kruse (Bochum, Germany), Mattew Leckie (Hertha Berlin, Germany), Andrew Nabbout (Urawa Red Diamonds, Japan), Nikita Rukavytsya (Maccabi Haifa, Israel), Dimitri Petratos (Newcastle Jets)