World Cup Fantasy managers are urged to look at the set-piece takers in Australia’s squad in a relatively favourable Group C draw.
With manager Bert van Marwijk only in the job since January, captain Mile Jedinak and corner-taker Aaron Mooy seem the most likely to continue their Socceroos form.
But Australia also hold some interesting differentials who could do well as Mathew Leckie assumes Tim Cahill’s mantle as the key target.
ROAD TO QUALIFICATION
Unbeknown to most, the Asian route to the World Cup can be just as gruelling as the lengthy South American qualification process. Australia, several years on from their golden generation, arrive in Russia after a relentless 22-match campaign finally ended with play-off victory in November.
The first eight matches of qualifying, against lesser nations such as Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Bangladesh, were significantly easier than what was to come for manager Ange Postecoglou’s men. Their third round group was fiercely contested with Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia all vying for two qualification slots. Despite avoiding defeat until the penultimate round of fixtures (a 2-0 reverse in Saitama), a frustratingly high number of draws and a win for Saudi Arabia in their final match, consigned Australia to the play-offs on goal difference.
In order to make it to an intercontinental play-off against a CONCACAF nation, they had to see off an up and coming Syria side. The first leg, staged in Malaysia, ended in a 1-1 draw five days before the two teams played out the same result in Sydney forcing extra time. Tim Cahill, now a sparingly used veteran, got both the goals to push Australia through another round.
A month later Mile Jedinak’s hat-trick secured a 3-1 aggregate win over Honduras. However, the nation’s relief at reaching the World Cup for a fourth successive time was short-lived as Postecoglou left his position almost as soon as the Socceroos had dragged themselves over the line. He was replaced by the man who booked Saudi Arabia’s place in Russia: Bert van Marwijk.
Whether Australia can emerge from a favourable draw to reach the knockout stages for the first time since 2006 is hard to predict. Not only has van Marwijk had very little time to work with his team, the Dutchman is just a temporary appointment before Graham Arnold takes over after the World Cup. In two friendlies, a 4-1 defeat in Norway and a 0-0 draw in Colombia, Australia have looked unconvincing too. However, in their first warm-up game, they thrashed Czech Republic 4-0.
AFC QUALIFYING + PLAY-OFFS:
Most starts: Mat Ryan (13), Mathew Leckie, Trent Sainsbury (both 12), Aaron Mooy (11), Tomi Juric, Mark Milligan, Tom Rogic (all 10).
Most goals: Mile Jedinak (6), Juric (5), Tim Cahill, Leckie (both 3).
Most assists: Leckie, Mooy (both five), Robbie Kruse (3).
THE KEY TARGETS
Versatile attacker Mathew Leckie (£6.0m in McDonald’s FIFA World Cup Fantasy) is the headline Fantasy asset in Australia’s ranks after involving himself in more international goals (ten) than any of his compatriots since September 2016. In 15 starts the Hertha Berlin man scored five times himself while also laying on five assists. Despite his ability to score Fantasy points from multiple avenues, he is still priced him up at £1.0m cheaper than bit-part player Tim Cahill (£7.0m). They have classified the pacy Leckie as a forward but in reality he is a right-winger, potentially offering even more points if he is put down as a midfielder on FIFA’s official game.
While less impressive in terms of goal-threat, Aaron Mooy (£7.0m) can offer a similar level of creativity as Leckie. As the corner-taker for his country, he has provided six assists for his team-mates since September 2016. Five of those came in regular third round matches of Asian qualifying (two of Leckie’s were in the play-offs), which meant no other player on the continent had more than the Huddersfield Town man during that stage of the competition.
Top of Australia’s goal-chart in preparation for the World Cup is striker Tomi Juric (£6.5m) and captain Mile Jedinak (£6.0m), both with six. The former struck five times during third round qualifying (no Asian player topped his numbers) adding another in the Socceroos appearance at last year’s Confederation Cup in Russia. Not a prolific forward, Juric is a tall and powerful target man who links the side’s play together well. His importance to the side has helped him make more starts than all but three of his compatriots since September 2016. He is sure to feature from the beginning in all three of the Aussies’ World Cup Group Stage matches.
Aston Villa midfielder Jedinak’s Fantasy appeal stems directly from his role as Australia’s free-kick and penalty taker. Five of his last six international goals have come from the spot while the the other was a direct free-kick. The 33-year-old skipper is a man who shines in the big games too, netting a hat-trick in the decisive play-off victory over Honduras in November.
THE LONG SHOTS
In years gone by Tim Cahill (£7.0m) would have been sat in the key targets section of an article like this, but at 38-years-old his game-time at international level has dwindled. The former Everton man, who returned to Millwall in January, has started just four matches for Australia since September 2016, three times in World Cup qualifying and once at last year’s Confederations Cup. That said, in his rare appearances, Cahill does have three goals to his name. It was his brace which saw Australia past Syria in the Asian play-off and he also netted against the UAE in the earlier third round. So, given his pedigree and goals per minute ration, he could be a decent long shot to have in your Fantasy squad, although he hasn’t started any of the Socceroos recent friendlies.
At the opposite end of international experience for Australia is winger Dimitri Petratos (£6.0m), who arrives in Russia fresh from a breakthrough season with Newcastle Jets. The 25-year-old scored ten times and assisted another nine goals as his side made it to the A-League Grand Final. That impressive form earned Petratos his first cap in April when he made his debut in the 4-1 defeat in Norway. The starting berths in wide midfield are held down fairly well by Leckie and Kruse, but Petratos is also capable of playing number 10 or as a striker. His versatility might see him used as an impact sub or van Marwijk may well hand him starts to ride the momentum of his club form.
AREAS TO AVOID
Regular rotation in defensive personnel and tactics during qualifying make Australia’s back-line difficult to trust either for starts or clean sheets. The Socceroos have not been particularly adept at keeping clean sheets over the last two years, registering just five of them in nineteen matches. Three of those were all recorded over 15 months ago and were against lowly opposition in Iraq and the United Arab Emirates (twice). With a free-scoring France side up first in Russia and Denmark and Peru to come after (who offered two and 1.45 goals per match in qualifying respectively), chances of any shut-outs are slim, even if Australia manage to get results.
After offering great value on FPL this season, Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan (£4.5m) is one of just few ever-presents defensive assets in the squad and may earn himself some ownership on the various World Cup Fantasy games. However, he should probably be avoided even if he is priced relatively generously. Trent Sainsbury (4.5m) and Mark Milligan (£5.0m) are the only established names in an unsettled defensive system and only the latter offers any real Fantasy potential. 32-year-old Milligan is a ball-playing centre-back with six international goals to his name and penalty duties when Jedinak and Cahill are absent. Meanwhile, Sainsbury was a regular during qualifying but hasn’t played double-figures in a club season since 2016.
June 9: Hungary v Australia (Budapest)
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