Quartet of forwards vie to lead line v Bangladesh, and each one brings something different for the pursuit of goals, including two of the Isuzu UTE A-League’s very best.
After a year of friendlies, the serious work starts now – and the spotlight is firmly on the quartet of strikers who aim to deliver goals for the Socceroos, including two star A-League names and two graduates of the competition.
A pair of World Cup qualifiers over the next six days will be followed by the Asian Cup in January, and there’s every reason to think that the forwards entrusted with piercing the rearguards of Bangladesh and Palestine are in pole position to lead the hunt for a trophy in Qatar after Christmas.
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With Mathew Leckie still injured, Jason Cummings’s time apparently having passed, Bayern Munich-bound Nestory Irankunda still very young and Garang Kuol struggling for game time in Holland, opportunity knocks for Kusin Yengi and Brandon Borrello to push established names Mitch Duke and Jamie Maclaren to lead the line for Australia.
Each offers head coach Graham Arnold a different option – the question is which is the most compelling in games where the Socceroos are expected to dominate.
‘Most clinical’ Maclaren has big claim to start
Melbourne City’s new captain has started the season as he always does – by scoring goals, even though his side has struggled and had to change its head coach.
“I think Jamie Maclaren is probably the one who would have the biggest claim to start just because he is so clinical,” said former A-Leagues Golden Boot Daniel McBreen.
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“He’s probably the most clinical Aussie striker in and around the box we’ve had for a number of years, a proper No9. He doesn’t miss many opportunities and is very regularly in the right place to get those opportunities.
“These two games are where I think we all expect Australia to be the dominant party, and probably games where it’s about the strikers who can covert chances.
“Jamie’s very underrated in the pressing that he does do and I don’t think he gets enough credit for leading the line at Melbourne City with his pressing because it’s in a more composed manner, more structured in what part of the pitch he does it in.
“All the other options Arnie has have played wide and tend to stretch the game that way whereas you can argue that in these games we need a player in the box.
“The way he drifts off the shoulders and gets into the blind spots of defenders, his timing is impeccable to nick in ahead of the defender at the last second.”
‘Dog-eat-dog’ scrap could be making of Yengi
Injury in September cost Kusini Yengi a call-up then but he might have timed his run perfectly ahead of the Asian Cup, having impressed for League One side Portsmouth after leaving the A-League in the off-season.
“There’s been a lot of excitement around Yengi because he’s the new face in the squad, but to me the excitement comes from seeing if he can translate what he’s done since moving to Portsmouth into the international arena,” said Roy O’Donovan, former EPL striker and scorer of the A-League’s goal of the year in 2016.
“He’s got everything in his armoury, the one question mark was regular goalscoring and his record for Portsmouth suggests he’s answering that question.
“In many ways, leaving the safety of Western Sydney might be the making of him. I know exactly how tough it is in League One where it’s aggressive and dog eat dog. He actually has all the attributes in his strength and real speed.
“On a winter’s Saturday the ball comes at you high and quick, you have to be able to respond and scrap for it. After basically playing the beautiful game at Adelaide and Western Sydney this is well out of his comfort zone and it will make him an all-round better player.
“Arnie likes a proper No 9 and Yengi can be that, especially as the likes of Jason Cummings and Bruno Fornaroli’s time seems to have passed.
“The goal he scored in the derby last year showed he likes the big occasion, and your Socceroos debut is as big as it gets.”
Arnie’s ‘war horse’ in fine form
The goalscoring hero against Tunisia at the World Cup, Duke comes into this camp in fine form after the former Western Sydney striker’s 10 goals – the second most productive season of the striker’s career – helped his club side, Machida Zelvia, secure promotion to the J-League.
“There’s quite a few players including Mitch that come the next World Cup are going to be pushing the mid-30s bracket,” said McBreen.
“That’s why we have seen over the last few camps, a lot of youngsters in there for Arnie to see up close, to observe those little details in training.
“With Dukey you know exactly what you’re going to get and he almost sets that standard – he’ll run himself into the ground for you, he will never stop working as he’s done so many times.
“You know how he’s going to perform and if he can pop up and get a goal as well, great. But in leading the line he’s such a reliable player if you know what I mean.
“(This season) he’s scoring goals, he’s getting assists, taking himself to that next level and he’s been rewarded for it.”
Western Sydney’s ‘blowfly’
Borrello was a revelation on his return to the A-Leagues last season, scoring 13 goals for the Wanderers and earning a recall to the national team. Most importantly, from Arnold’s point of view, he played right across the front line for Western Sydney – including as No 9.
“In some ways Borrello reminds me of Dukey because of those forward runs and he seems to be all over the place like a blowfly in the opposition’s ear, just constantly harassing and haranguing the defence when they have the ball,” said McBreen.
“What he found last season was that ability to put the ball away as well. We all know with strikers, once they start to find the back of the net, it just seems to become second nature and that confidence grows. He’s just been in that vein of form in the last 12 months and it’s the sort of form that earned him a move overseas in the first place.
“Everything he seems to touch has turned into gold and we know Arnie likes him. At 28 and with nine caps he seems to be ready for the responsibility.”
Socceroos v Bangladesh
Thursday, 16 November 2023, AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 8.OOpm AEDT
Tickets: via Ticketek
Broadcast: Network 10 and Paramount+
Palestine v Socceroos
Tuesday, 22 November 2023, Jaber Al-Ahmed International Stadium, Kuwait
Kick-off: 1am AEDT
Broadcast: Network 10 and Paramount+