Socceroos coach Holger Osieck has promised to select his strongest available squad for February's FIFA World Cup™ qualifier against Saudi Arabia at AAMI Park, despite the match being a dead rubber for the Australians. The Socceroos booked their spot in the next stage of qualifying with a win over Thailand in Bangkok last week, meaning the final group match only has meaning for the Saudis, who need to win to guarantee progress.
Osieck is adamant, however, he will always select his best XI, regardless of the circumstances. "I definitely won't approach this game as an experiment," he said. "We are in the process of getting the group together and there won't be too many changes. I'm pretty happy that I can count on experienced and well-tested players and they will definitely be the core group of our team for the games.
"Of course I will always open the doors for talented boys but you know it's a fine line if they are labelled too fast as rising stars and compared to big names. I am handling that with care, because it's an educational process as well for those guys and if you push them forward too fast then it could be detrimental."
While Osieck has been prepared to try untested players during his tenure, he believes he already has the basis of a strong squad to take to Brazil 2014. "There is definitely a core group who are experienced and tested players but there is also an opportunity for the younger guys," he said. That leaves Archie Thompson, who was recently part of a training camp for fringe Socceroos, in an interesting spot, with the Melbourne Victory fan favourite pressing for national selection again after an impressive run of form in the A-League.
It appears the 33-year-old would appear to not fit the mould of an emerging player, but Osieck also said that he wasn't interested in birth certificates, only performances. "I know that Archie brings a lot of quality to the team, and I always keep saying it's not a matter of age, it's a more a matter of maturity and experience and he brings everything that is needed to play at that level ," Osieck said.
Thompson, who has had several false dawns in recent years in terms of his national prospects, remains determined to be a part of the Socceroos as long as possible. "I feel if I keep performing and doing well then hopefully an opportunity will come but I need to be scoring goals and need to playing well because there is a hell of a lot of talent out there at the moment, especially young talent," he said. "If opportunities come my way I need to take them because I am getting to an age where these opportunities won't come around very often."
His club-mate Harry Kewell, who is a month older than Thompson, is also acutely aware of the need to make the most of his chances when selected for the Socceroos. Kewell, who injured a hamstring when playing against Oman on 15 November, said he wanted every chance possible to prove to Osieck he can play on until the 2014 FIFA World Cup. "I think the important thing is playing well for your club," he said. "If you play well for your club then you get the privilege of playing for your country. If you are not performing well, there's question marks about whether you are selected."