The Socceroos’ already troubled preparation for Thursday night’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Japan has been further shaken by the withdrawal of Celtic star Tom Rogic and Central Coast Mariners defender Kye Rowles from the Australian team.
Meanwhile, Melbourne City have refused to release centre-back Curtis Good to the squad for Thursday’s game.
Football Australia could have forced City’s hand, but with the club already having four players in the squad, a fifth call-up could have given the Patrick Kisnorbo-coached side the chance to postpone their Wednesday night A-League game against Brisbane Roars.
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The FA eventually opted for Wilkinson, 37, who was a member of Australia’s 2014 World Cup squad.
The team is already missing rising central defensive star Harry Souttar who underwent surgery in December after a torn ACL.
“In accordance with FIFA requirements and in support of the national team, Melbourne City FC have released four first-choice players to the Socceroos final squad for the current international window,” Melbourne City told AAP.
“Football Australia, anticipating the impact of COVID-19, has released a larger than usual extended squad. The original list included seven players from Melbourne City FC. However, Curtis Good was not included in this extended squad. .
“Melbourne City take on Brisbane Roar and Macarthur FC during the window without four Socceroos players.
“This will be the second international window of the 21/22 season where the club will play matches while releasing four players for national service.”
Playmaker Rogic’s unavailability wasn’t entirely unexpected after injuring his ankle while receiving a shocking red tackle in Celtic’s 4-0 Scottish Premiership win at the weekend against Ross County.
However, it remains a huge blow for a Socceroos side already without midfield trio Aaron Mooy (Covid-19), Jackson Irvine (Covid-19) and Riley McGree (calf).
The uncapped Rowles has also tested positive for the virus, while Adelaide United’s Craig Goodwin has already been forced out of the squad after being deemed a close contact for an unrelated case.
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Sydney FC captain and veteran defender Alex Wilkinson has been called up to the squad for Thursday night’s game at the Accor Stadium, with Kuwait-based centre-back Ryan McGowan to link up with the Middle East squad for the Wednesday morning’s game against Saudi Arabia in Jeddah. .
It is understood that Socceroos manager Graham Arnold – who also tested positive for Covid-19 and remains in self-isolation after being fined $25,000 by Football Australia for breaching NSW health protocols in going swimming briefly at the weekend to help treat his allergies – had wanted to bring Melbourne Victory defender Matthew Spiranovic into the squad.
However, Spiranovic also tested positive for Covid-19.
Socceroos midfielder Denis Genreau was confident the team could ride out the disruption to produce winning performances against Japan and Saudi Arabia.
Currently seeded third in Group B of the third round of the AFC World Cup qualifiers, the Socceroos will in all likelihood have to beat Japan and Saudi Arabia to automatically qualify for this World Cup in Qatar.
At the very least, the Socceroos need to draw with Japan to give them any hope of automatic qualification ahead of the remaining Group B fixtures next week.
However, regardless of their results against Japan and Saudi Arabia, the Socceroos cannot be dislodged from third place in Group B, a position that will allow them to advance to the playoffs to determine the remaining nations that will get the title. qualification for the World Cup.
“The way ‘Arnie’ (Arnold) has prepared the team and the way all the boys are, we know we’re ready for anything thrown at us,” Genreau said.
“Nothing is ever easy when you qualify for a World Cup, so it’s just another day at the office.
“Players are supposed to give our best under pressure, so you just have to prepare mentally, and physically, we’re all ready.
“We have a lot of players who can step in and do a great job.”