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World Cup history beckons for Australia’s aging goal-scoring wizard

CANBERRA Australia (Xinhua) -- If he can find the net in Russia later this month, Australia’s enduring football star Tim Cahill will become only the fourth player to score in four consecutive FIFA World Cups.

Cahill’s inclusion in Australia’s squad of 23 players, announced on Sunday, provides an opportunity for the 38-year-old to join legends Pele, Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose in achieving the feat - an astonishing performance given his diminutive stature, and Australia’s lowly place in the sport’s hierarchy.

But the inclusion of 19-year-old Daniel Arzani - at half Cahill’s age - is the big surprise in coach Bert van Marwijk’s squad. The Melbourne City youngster will have a chance to feature in Russia less than five months after his debut in the country’s premier domestic competition, the A-League.

Arzani becomes the youngest Aussie ever to go to a World Cup, and his selection shapes as a major validation of the A-League after his exploits with City drew widespread calls for an international call-up.

Striker Jamie Maclaren completed a miraculous U-turn to make the final group after his recall from holiday in Dubai on May 15.

Maclaren had been axed from the initial squad of 27, but was brought back to cover for injured Tomi Juric as the Socceroos look to overcome an overreliance on Cahill for goals.

His inclusion boosts Van Marwijk’s options up front. Maclaren’s poaching instincts and penchant for getting in behind defenses provides a diverse option at No. 9, with Juric, Andrew Nabbout and Cahill the other three players vying to lead the line. Cahill, who stands at just 1.78m, has appeared in eight of Australia’s last ten World Cup matches, since the country’s qualification in 2006 ended a 32-year World Cup drought.

In a squad that balances experience and youthful exuberance, only captain Mile Jedinak and Cahill have more than ten international goals to their name, with five of Cahill’s 105 goals coming at World Cups in Germany, South Africa and Brazil.

Mathew Leckie, Massimo Luongo and goalkeeper Mat Ryan are the only other players to have attended a World Cup before, while selection for Tom Rogic, Trent Sainsbury, Robbie Kruse and 36-year-old Brad Jones will make up for the disappointment of missing out on previous tournaments.

Attacking midfielder, Rogic, who was cut from Australia’s final 2014 tournament squad after a groin injury held him back, has netted six of his seven international goals in World Cup qualifiers.

The 25-year-old has recently signed a five-year contract extension with Scottish giants Celtic and is set to play a pivotal role in the Socceroos’ campaign.

Ranked 40th in the world, Australia has to tighten its leaky defense in order to have any chance of qualifying from Group C, where free-scoring France are first up on June 16.

With only five clean sheets in the last 19 internationals, EPL goalkeeper Ryan needs protection.  Dutch coach Van Marwijk, who took over in January after Ange Postecoglou resigned following qualification, had only overseen three Socceroos matches before deciding on his final squad, with James Troisi, Josh Brillante, Nikita Rukavytsya and Fran Karacic cut from the final 23.

“I look to solve problems, (defensively) I think we have enough players,” van Marwijk told reporters after announcing the squad on Sunday.    “Now I have more options in front, several types of central forwards and number nines. I have more players who can play in more positions. [Arzani’s] improving but he has to learn a lot.”

Mathew Leckie, Nabbout and Aaron Mooy (who also plies his trade in England’s top division) head to Russia as Australia’s men in form, while Arzani could hit the headlines given a chance.

The Iranian-born winger could even be the youngest player at the 2018 Russia World Cup if 19-year-old Sebastian Szymanski gets cut from Poland’s squad, which is set to be announced on Monday night.

Arzani, Dimitri Petratos and Josh Risdon - who joined the squad a day after his wedding - are the only three players from the A-league to be selected, with 13 leagues across the world represented, including Japan and Israel.

The Socceroos will continue to train in Turkey this week before heading to Budapest for a friendly against Hungary on June 9 and then Kazan for their World Cup opener against France.

Australia’s squad:

Goalkeepers: Mat Ryan (Brighton, England), Brad Jones (Feyenoord, Netherlands), Danny Vukovic (Genk, Belgium)    Defenders: Josh Risdon (Western Sydney Wanderers), Trent Sainsbury (Grasshopper Zurich, Switzerland), Matthew Jurman (Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Korea), Aziz Behich (Bursaspor, Turkey), Mark Milligan (Al Ahli, Saudi Arabia), Milos Degenek (Yokohama F Marinos, Japan), James Meredith (Millwall, England)   

Midfielders: Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town, England), Tom Rogic (Celtic, Scotland), Massimo Luongo (QPR, England), Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa, England), Dimitri Petratos (Newcastle Jets), Jackson Irvine (Hull City, England), Mathew Leckie (Hertha BSC, Germany), Daniel Arzani (Melbourne City)

Forwards: Tim Cahill (Millwall, England), Tomi Juric (Luzern, Switzerland), Jamie Maclaren (Hibernian,Scotland), Andrew Nabbout (Urawa Red Diamonds, Japan), Robbie Kruse (Bochum, Germany).

           

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