Kazan: Long-standing captain Mile Jedinak is at risk of being left out of the Socceroos starting line-up for the opening match of the 2018 World Cup against France.
The 33-year-old symbolically led the players off their plane and on to Russian soil when they touched down in Kazan on Sunday but is no certainty to lead the team out of the tunnel on Saturday when they face France.
Leading the way: Mile Jedinak strides out with the Socceroos squad at their base in Kazan.
Jedinak finds himself in an unfamiliar position of fighting for a place in coach Bert van Marwijk's first 11, where he is battling Aaron Mooy and Massimo Luongo for one of the two defensive midfield spots.
Jedinak did not play in the opening warm-up match – a 4-0 win over Czech Republic – and came on at half-time in the 2-1 win over Hungary, when the veteran provided some much needed stability to Australia's structure and authority in the midfield. His introduction coincided with a stark improvement in the side's defensive shape and composure, but he will have to wait until close to game day to find out if it was enough to start against France.
Sources suggest van Marwijk is not likely to tinker much with the starting team for Saturday's match against France, having kept the same first 11 players for the two warm-up friendlies. Jedinak will have three more training sessions to convince the Dutch coach to select him in the first team for France. Should it not be enough to earn his place on the park, winger Matt Leckie says the absence of the idol will be felt but his presence in the dressing room and around the squad will hold Australia in good stead.
"Even when Mile’s left out, the guy who’s playing in front of him is playing at a high level. Theres a lot of quality as well on the pitch," Leckie said. "At the end of the day it comes down to what the coach wants and what is best for the team. Mile is an idol for all of us and we look up to him and he brings a lot to the team but even if he’s not on the pitch he does the same things in the changing room, off the park. He’s a really good professional and he’s always positive."
It appears that Luongo is the man most likely vying with Jedinak for the second holding midfield spot, with Mooy all but locked in for one place. If Monday's training session in Kazan was anything to go by, it appears the partnership between Luongo and Mooy is one van Marwijk admires. The two were paired together for possession drills. While not a tactical run-through and still very early in the piece, Jedinak was not paired with either Mooy or Luongo in the possession drills.
Jedinak remains the captain of the team but, if he does not start, defender Trent Sainsbury is set to lead Australia in their opener, which would make him the fifth man to captain the Socceroos at a World Cup following Jedinak (2014), Lucas Neill (2010,) Mark Viduka (2006) and Peter Wilson (1974).
The stopper wore the armband for the first time in Australia’s 4-0 defeat of Czech Republic earlier this month, taking over from defensive partner Mark Milligan as Jedinak’s deputy.
Intriguingly, he held onto the role after Jedinak came on at half-time against Hungary.
‘‘I offered up the armband but the boss said no,’’ Sainsbury said.
‘‘But I’m here to play football, not worry about an armband.
‘‘It’d be a nice little thing to put on the CV but, at the same time, for me it’s not important to be captain. It’s important to be out there playing.
‘‘I think if Mile starts, he’ll be the captain.’’
Speaking before his arrival in Russia, Jedinak praised Sainsbury’s conduct as skipper against Czech Republic.
‘‘He did a fantastic job,’’ he said. ‘‘He’s someone who’s well respected in the group. He’s vocal, he’s got that presence. He’s someone that’s doing all the right things. Trying to lead by example, that needs to happen.’’
The Socceroos trained at their home base for the 2018 World Cup, the Stadion Trudovya Rezervy in Kazan, where they were greeted by thousands of mostly local supporters. Arranged by the Local Organising Committee, the main grandstand at the venue was full of supporters waving Socceroos flags.
Sainsbury was one of four players who did not take part in their first training session, instead undergoing attention for a minor knock sustained in the win over Hungary. Tomi Juric, Tom Rogic and Andrew Nabbout also missed the session but are not in doubt for Saturday's match. A Football Federation Australia spokesman said they are all expected to be fit and available and set to resume training on Wednesday morning, Sydney time. – with AAP
Source: Read Full Article