A-League players ruled out of Socceroos contention

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has all but ruled out selecting A-League players for the opening matches of Australia’s next stage of World Cup qualifiers due to their inactivity.

Fresh from the Socceroos’ perfect Asian Football Confederation second-round qualifying campaign, Arnold has started planning for the tougher third round of qualifiers in which Australia can guarantee themselves a place in next year’s World Cup with a top-two finish in their group.

Ten A-League players, including the competition’s Golden Boot Jamie Maclaren, were part of Arnold’s 31-man squad that gathered in Kuwait for the final four matches of Australia’s second-round Group B campaign.

But with the likelihood that the new A-League season won’t kick off until late November, Arnold said it would be difficult to pick Australia-based players for qualifiers in September, October and November.

“Will A-League players be able to play for the Socceroos (again) this year? I don’t know,” Arnold said.

“I’m hearing that the A-League competition’s going to start at the end of November.

“If that happens, how can the boys be match fit for (qualifiers) in September, October and November?”

Great month away representing our country 🇦🇺 8 wins from 8 ✔️Bring on the next round! 👊🏽 #Socceroos#Australiapic.twitter.com/2xyyxeT1W8

The draw for the third-round of AFC World Cup qualifiers takes place on July 1.

Twelve teams – Australia, Japan, South Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, UAE, Lebanon, China, Vietnam, Oman and Saudi Arabia – will be split into two groups of six teams.

The Socceroos will be one of two teams from pot two for the draw, placing the among the favoured four seeds, according to world rankings, with Iran, Japan and South Korea to qualify for the World Cup.

Arnold was hopeful the Socceroos would be drawn in the same third-round group as Iran to exact revenge for Australia’s failure to qualify for the 1998 World Cup.

Iran qualified at the Socceroos’ expense, fighting back from 2-0 down in the second leg at the MCG to draw 2-2 in November 1997 and advance to the World Cup on the away goals rule after the first leg had finished 1-1.

The game in Melbourne was former Socceroos striker Arnold’s last in an Australian jersey.

“I retired straight after that, and it’s a memory that’s always there and is one that I want to fix,” Arnold said.

“It was devastating. It was a sad way to end my international career.”

But before the next stage of World Cup qualifiers, Arnold’s attention will be on his role as Olyroos coach for Australia’s Olympic Games campaign starting next month in Tokyo.

Arnold confirmed that A-League pair Connor Metcalfe and Denis Genreau – who were part of his Socceroos squad in Kuwait – would be in Australia’s yet-to-be-named Tokyo Olympics squad.

“If I took an Olyroo across to play for the Socceroos, then those ones (will be) selected in the Olyroos (for the Olympics),” said Arnold, suggesting that Olyroos’ age-eligible pair Riley McGree and Harry Souttar will also be selected for Tokyo.

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