The Isuzu UTE A-League is on the verge of receiving another glowing international endorsement, with Melbourne City’s Marco Tilio and Sydney FC’s Joel King set to receive their maiden Socceroos call-ups.
NewsCorp outlets today reported that Tilio, 20, and King, 21, are strong contenders to be selected for the Socceroos’ defining FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Graham Arnold’s side faces Vietnam (AAMI Park) on January 27 and Oman (away) on February 2. The Socceroos are third in the group – one point behind Japan and five points behind Saudi Arabia.
The top two teams from each Asian group qualify automatically, while the third place teams playoff before an intercontinental decider against the fifth-place South American team – potentially Uruguay, Colombia or Peru.
Tilio’s x-factor, which prompted Arnold to make the fleet-footed attacker his Olyroos selection bolter for Tokyo 2020, has propelled him into contention.
And with Arnold putting huge stock in Olyroos performances, Tilio’s one-touch stunner against Argentina at Tokyo 2020 still appears to be etched in his memory in the 2-0 win over Argentina.
Ditto King, who held down the left-back position in Tokyo and supplied an assist for Western United’s Lachlan Wales for the opener against Argentina.
King, 21, has played 62 A-League games, and 74 games in all competitions.
Tilio, who made three Sydney FC appearances before switching to City, has made 31 appearances and 37 in all competitions. It includes 12 starts and four goals.
A host of other A-Leagues players are expected to be picked in Arnold’s squad.
Tilio’s story has been celebrated this season, with the pint-sized former futsal-playing attacker’s journey from grassroots to the professional football featuring in the A-Leagues anthem music video Real Nice (H.C.T.F.).
The A-Leagues players selected will feature for their clubs this weekend, before joining the Socceroos camp in Melbourne on Monday, when the international players will also begin trickling in.
King’s Sydney FC host Perth Glory on Saturday at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, setting up a potentially mouth-watering duel with Daniel Sturridge.
Tilio will be away with Melbourne City at Central Coast on Sunday, with the Mariners buoyant after beating Sydney FC to claim a maiden FFA Cup final berth.
Being on the Socceroos radar alone illustrates the recent A-League shift that has seen more younger players get opportunities.
Last season (2020/21) saw over 100 Olyroos-eligible players make at least five A-League appearances, and over 80 played 10 games or more, while a record 107 Under 21 players appeared.
Arnold, who got his first senior coaching opportunity with the Mariners, paid tribute to the A-League in March last year, ahead of Tokyo which was the first major tournament where Australia fielded an exclusively A-League produced squad – 14 of the 22-players squad played in A-League last season.
“To see what I’m reading today compared to February 2019, when I struggled to get a squad together (with regular match minutes) for Cambodia qualifiers, this is chalk and cheese,” Arnold said.
“I brought players in Cambodia I’d never seen, like Harry Souttar. Every week our analysis team runs a live analysis of Under 23 minutes in the A-League and already the first six to seven rounds, some clubs have played kids more than they did last season and the average age has dropped from 32 to 25. It’s shown we do have talent here.”
The A-League finals series also provided the platform for Tilio to shine and ultimately become one of the greatest surprise packet selections for the Olyroos, after his City team prevailed 3-1 against King’s Sydney FC.