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Teen’s crucial WC audition looms as answer to Rogic issue must be found: ‘Roos Burning Questions

The countdown is officially on for the FIFA World Cup, as the Socceroos gear up for their farewell friendlies against New Zealand.

Graham Arnold’s side face the Kiwis in Brisbane on September 22, with the Aussies then heading to Auckland for a game at Eden Park.

Given it is the last international window before the big dance, plenty of eyeballs will be on the Socceroos to see who will prove they are worthy of a spot on the plane to Qatar.

Foxsports.com.au analyses the four burning questions surrounding the Socceroos ahead of the trans-Tasman tussles.

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IS MAT RYAN REALLY UNDER THREAT?

One of the biggest additions to the Socceroos squad was gloveman Mitch Langerak, who retired from international football in May 2021 due to the extremely difficult Covid-19 regulations in Japan, where he has played since 2018.

The 34-year-old Queenslander has been a picture of consistency with Nagoya Grampus over those four years. In 2020, he set the record for the J1 League with 17 clean sheets.

Last year, he went even better to bag a whopping 21 clean sheets in 38 games, including a record nine clean sheets in a row at one stage.

But still, Langerak has managed just eight international caps in his career, owing to the vice-like grip captain Mat Ryan has on the Socceroos’ number one jersey.

Even when Ryan was struggling for minutes at his own club – in contrast to Langerak racking up minutes in Nagoya – Ryan was trusted to perform for the national team.

It is something he has done consistently. But there is simply no substitute for match minutes, and Ryan made the bold decision to leave Spain – and the chance to play against some of the world’s best – to join Copenhagen FC this season.

The game-time he is garnering, including in the Champions League, is a crucial boost to his World Cup preparations.

How will Ryan cope with the pressure from the returning Langerak? (Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images)
How will Ryan cope with the pressure from the returning Langerak? (Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Had Ryan been stuck on the bench at Real Sociedad for another season, there was a real possibility that Langerak could genuinely challenge him for the number one jersey in Qatar – despite Ryan boasting the Australian captaincy, 74 caps, and appearing at both the 2014 and 2018 World Cups.

Roos coach Graham Arnold said Langerak had been given “no guarantees” he would travel to Qatar for the tournament, which begins November 20.

“The only guarantee for him at the moment are these two games against New Zealand, and he’ll be in camp for them,” Arnold said.

“His fitness and performances are the most crucial things leading into Qatar.

“It’s about getting all our plans right for the World Cup. We need to make sure that if anything does happen to any of the goalkeepers, that we’re ready for plan B and plan C.”

He will likely start in one of the pair of NZ clashes. A good performance there, and he likely asserts himself as the Plan B for the Socceroos.

It’s just reward for a player whose incredible performances – and career- have too often gone underappreciated in Australia.

Langerak recently backflipped on his decision to retire from international football. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

WILL TEENAGE SENSATION DO ENOUGH TO BOOK WORLD CUP SPOT?

There was a great deal of excitement when Garang Kuol’s name was included in Arnold’s 31-man squad for the New Zealand friendlies.

The teenager took the A-League Men’s by storm and scored four goals in seven appearances from the bench.

He grabbed his opportunity to play for the A-League All Stars with both hands and delivered a performance that Barcelona boss Xavi described as “unbelievable”.

With a call-up to the Socceroos confirmed on his final day as a 17-year-old, not many would have foreseen such a meteoric rise.

For all of the positivity surrounding Kuol’s call-up, he has yet to start an A-League Men’s game for the Mariners.

It’s two different stories to impact a game from the bench and to do so from the first whistle.

Should Kuol be handed a starting berth in either game, it could be telling as to whether he has a chance of going to the World Cup or not.

Being a part of a Socceroos camp where results aren’t exactly fatal is the perfect environment for Kuol to prove he can hang with Australia’s best.

But there’s no margin for error once the action begins in Qatar.

Garang Kuol earned his first-ever call-up for the Socceroos. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

HOW DO SOCCEROOS FILL ROGIC’S CREATIVE VOID?

Tom Rogic is the Socceroos’ most creative player, without a doubt.

But he’s also a very real chance of not making the World Cup.

Having recently signed with Championship outfit West Bromwich Albion, Rogic must build up match fitness and clock some needed minutes.

And if he can’t do that, then Arnold must find a way to fill the creative void in his squad.

The Socceroos boss was forced to do that when Rogic unexpectedly withdrew from the squad ahead of the World Cup play-off matches, but this camp will provide Arnold with the ideal chance to see what creative juices he can extract from his troops.

He might even alter his tactical system to compensate and allow the respective skill sets of other plays to flourish.

If Arnold can find a way to make it work, the Rogic conundrum might not even be something he needs to worry about when it comes to naming the final World Cup squad.

Tom Rogic hasn’t played any competitive minutes since May. (Photo by Jonathan DiMaggio/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

IS THERE ENOUGH TIME FOR A-LEAGUE PLAYERS TO PROVE THEMSELVES?

In Arnold’s 31-man squad, there are six A-League Men’s players: Andrew Redmayne, Jason Cummings, Garang Kuol, Mathew Leckie, Marco Tilio and Jamie Maclaren.

There’s only two certainties from the group to go to Qatar and that’s Redmayne and Leckie.

Redmayne’s penalty heroics against Peru has made him almost undroppable, while Leckie’s experience and know-how means he simply must be on the plane.

But Cummings, Kuol, Tilio and Maclaren must prove they are worthy.

The issue is that there are only six A-League Men’s fixtures between the start of the season on October 8 and when the competition halts because of the World Cup.

If a player does not showcase themselves in the camp, six games may not be enough time to ensure their Socceroos inclusion.

Tilio and Maclaren are more likely than Kuol and Cummings to make the final squad given they both have played for the national side and proven their capability at that level, which is a massive advantage in their favour.

But a lot can change based on this camp and in six games.

Will it be a change for better, or for worse?

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