The Socceroos’ already troubled build up to Thursday night’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Japan has been further rocked by the withdrawal of Celtic star Tom Rogic and Central Coast Mariners defender Kye Rowles from Australia’s squad.
Meanwhile Melbourne City refused to release centre-back Curtis Good into the squad for Thursday’s match.
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 team the option of postponing its A-League match on Wednesday night against Brisbane Roar.
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FA eventually settled on the 37-year-old Wilkinson, who was a member of Australia’s 2014 World Cup squad.
The squad is already missing central defensive rising star Harry Souttar who underwent surgery in December after an ACL tear.
“In accordance with FIFA requirements, and in support of the national team, Melbourne City FC have released four first choice players into the final Socceroos squad for the current international window,” Melbourne City told AAP.
“Football Australia, anticipating the impact of COVID-19, issued a larger than usual extended squad. The original list included seven Melbourne City FC players. However, Curtis Good was not included in that extended squad.
“Melbourne City play both Brisbane Roar and Macarthur FC during the window without four Socceroos players.
“This will be the second international window of the 21/22 season that the club played fixtures whilst releasing four players for national duty.”
Playmaker Rogic’s unavailability was not totally unexpected after he injured his ankle when on the receiving end of a shocking red-card tackle Celtic’s 4-0 Scottish Premiership weekend win over Ross County.
However, it remains a huge blow for a Socceroos squad already without midfield trio Aaron Mooy (Covid-19), Jackson Irvine (Covid-19) and Riley McGree (calf).
The uncapped Rowles has also tested positive to the virus, while Adelaide United’s Craig Goodwin was previously forced to withdraw from the squad after being deemed a close contact for an unrelated case.
Sydney FC captain and veteran defender Alex Wilkinson has been called into the squad for Thursday night’s game at Accor Stadium, with Kuwait-based centre-back Ryan McGowan to link with the squad in the Middle East for next Wednesday morning’s match against Saudi Arabia in Jeddah.
It’s understood that Socceroos coach Graham Arnold – who also tested positive to Covid-19 and remains in self-isolation after being fined $25,000 by Football Australia for breaking NSW health protocols by going for a brief weekend swim to help treat his allergies – had wanted to bring Melbourne Victory defender Matthew Spiranovic into the squad.
However, Spiranovic has also tested positive to Covid-19.
Socceroos midfielder Denis Genreau was confident the squad could overcome the disruptions to produce winning performances against Japan and Saudi Arabia.
Currently placed third in Group B of the AFC’s third-round of World Cup qualifiers, the Socceroos will in all likelihood need to beat both Japan and Saudi Arabia to gain automatic entry to this World Cup in Qatar.
At the very least the Socceroos must draw with Japan to give them any hope of automatic qualification heading into next week’s remaining Group B matches.
However, regardless of their results against Japan and Saudi Arabia, the Socceroos can’t be dislodged from Group B’s third spot, a position that will earn them entry into playoffs to determine the remaining nations who will earn World Cup qualification.
“The way that ‘Arnie’ (Arnold) has prepared the team and the way that all boys are, we know that we’re ready to face anything that’s thrown at us,” Genreau said.
“Nothing’s ever easy when we’re qualifying for a World Cup, so it’s just another day at the office.
“Players are expected to perform at our best under pressure, so you just have to get yourself ready mentally, and physically we’re all ready.
“We’ve got plenty of players that can step up and do a great job.”