Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk has stamped talisman Tim Cahill and uncapped teenage gun Daniel Arzani as players who can “make a difference” at the World Cup.
And the Dutchman offered a strong hint Cahill could well be on the way to Russia next month for a fourth consecutive World Cup, labelling the 38-year-old striker “a special case” after naming the country’s all-time leading scorer in his extended 32-man squad.
Croatian-born 21-year-old right-back Fran Karacic is the shock selection while established core Mile Jedinak, Aaron Mooy, Mat Ryan, Mathew Leckie, Robbie Kruse, Massimo Luongo and Tomi Juric have all been retained.
Striker Jamie McLaren’s recent goal-scoring exploits in Scotland won him a recall alongside goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak, Alex Gersbach and Apostolos Giannou.
Cahill is currently serving a suspension with Millwall and has played just 63 minutes over 10 games for the English Championship side since leaving the A-League in search of more game time.
His last club goal came for Melbourne City more than a year ago, though his brace against Syria in October saved Australia’s World Cup hopes and booked the successful playoff berth against Honduras.
Those heroics were undoubtedly part of the reason Van Marwijk was willing to admit something about Cahill no prior national-team coach has acknowledged.
“He is a special case … he is special in everything,” Van Marwijk said.
“He is 38 and maybe one of the best-ever players for Australia. He is a very good striker.
“He doesn’t play [at the moment], maybe five or 10 or 20 minutes. Also he has a problem that he is suspended and I have to take a decision whether to take him to the world championship.
“He is not 19 like Arzani — he’s twice as old — but is also a player who can make a difference.
“He will not be nervous if we play in front of 80,000 people.”
Arzani, meanwhile, will wait nervously for next week’s announcement of the 26-man squad that will meet in Turkey for an intensive pre-World Cup training camp before van Marwijk names his final 23-strong squad in June.
The Melbourne City winger wasn’t picked for Australia’s recent friendlies despite setting the A-League alight after breaking into the City first team in January, and Van Marwijk revealed he’d wanted to see more of the rapidly rising youngster.
He said Iran’s interest in capping him had nothing to do with the decision.
“Nobody told me not to nominate him because of this, but I hope that when we are nominating him he will play for Australia,” he said.
“He’s playing games, before March he didn’t play every game. At 19 he has to learn a lot so I think it was normal [not to pick him].
“He is young and must learn a lot but he is a player who can make a difference. I like players who make a difference.
“Maybe a world championship is too early for him, but I will not hesitate to nominate him when I think that he can mean something for us, and can make a difference maybe in the last 10 or 15 minutes.
“I am happy he is in the squad.”
Australia’s 32-man provisional World Cup squad:
Goalkeepers: Brad Jones, Mitch Langerak, Mat Ryan, Danny Vukovic
Defenders: Aziz Behich, Milos Degenek, Alex Gersbach, Matthew Jurman , Fran Karacic, James Meredith, Josh Risdon, Trent Sainsbury, Aleksandar Susnjar, Bailey Wright
Midfielders: Josh Brillante, Jackson Irvine, Mile Jedinak, Robbie Kruse, Massimo Luongo, Mark Milligan, Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic, James Troisi
Forwards: Daniel Arzani, Tim Cahill, Apostolos Giannou, Tomi Juric, Mathew Leckie, Jamie Maclaren, Andrew Nabbout, Dimitri Petratos, Nikita Rukavytsya