The Socceroos have suffered another setback ahead of their crucial World Cup qualifier against Vietnam, with left-back Aziz Behich stuck in Turkey and ruled out of Thursday night’s clash at AAMI Park.
Having been all week without coach Graham Arnold, who has Covid-19, and already missing suspended playmaker Ajdin Hrustic, the Socceroos have now lost Behich, who has been robbed of a Melbourne homecoming.
The former Melbourne Victory defender, who now plies his trade with Turkish club Giresunspor, was set to fly to Australia before a blizzard prevented the flight taking off from Istanbul.
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Instead his teammates will play in the Melbourne heat on Thursday and Behich will link with the rest of the Socceroos squad in Muscat next week for Australia’s clash with Oman.
“Unfortunately he’s not been able to travel because he got stuck at the airport at Istanbul because of a blizzard, which is a shame of course, because he was very keen again to come and play for the Socceroos,” stand-in coach Rene Muelensteen said on Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared to fill in for Arnold.
While Behich’s absence is a blow, Socceroos assistant coach Rene Meulensteen was confident Australia had sufficient depth to overcome the loss.
Candidates to start at left back on Thursday include uncapped Sydney FC defender Joel King and Adelaide United’s versatile left-sided player Craig Goodwin.
One of the squad’s two right-backs – Rhyan Grant or Fran Karacic – might also be used on the left side of defence.
“It’s just another challenge we’ve got in front of us,” Meulensteen said.
“The good thing is that certain players are so versatile that they can cover more than one position.”
However, 21-year-old King, who was in the Olyroos squad at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, is the squad’s only other specialist left-back.
“Joel’s come in. He deserves his right to be selected,” Meulensteen said.
“Graham Arnold and myself, we also (coached) the Olympic squad for only one reason – to create depth, to start to understand what young players are coming through and the qualities they can bring to the Socceroos.
“Joel is one of those players. He’s played a lot of games already, a lot of important games, big games and he’s done ever so well, so if we do decide to give Joel his debut, then we are all confident he’s ready for it.”
Meulensteen also backed the attacking-minded Goodwin to do the job at left-back if asked to do so.
“Craig is a player that brings certain specific qualities with him. He’s got a great left foot, (and) a great delivery,” the former Manchester United assistant coach said.
“We expect to be dominant on the ball and in that respect it means we’re going to have a lot of ball in the opponent’s half, and (Goodwin) could be an option.”
Without a point from six Group B matches, Vietnam should not trouble the Socceroos at all on Thursday night.
However the Australians, who currently don’t occupy an automatic qualifying berth for this year’s World Cup, can’t afford to relax.
“We respect every opponent and we prepare meticulously … when we go to play any opponent in terms of their strengths but also in terms of where we can hurt them,” Meulensteen said.
“We want to be on the front foot, we want to be aggressive, we want to play forward, creating as many chances as we can, asking as many questions of their defence as we can, and obviously we want to score goals.”
FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, AFC Asian qualifiers (third round)
Australia v Vietnam
Thursday, AAMI Park, 8.10pm (AEDT)
TAB odds: Australia $1.14, Vietnam $17, draw $7.50
TV: Live on 10 Bold
Possible Socceroos line-up: Mat Ryan, Rhyan Grant, Milos Degenek, Trent Sainsbury, Joel King, Jackson Irvine, Aaron Mooy, Martin Boyle, Tom Rogic, Mathew Leckie, Mitchell Duke.