December 23, 2014 – 6:18PM
Senior sports reporter with The Age
Can it really be termed a surprise if the hottest striker in the league has forced his way into national team calculations?
If anyone said six months ago that Nathan Burns was a chance to be a starter in the Socceroos opening game of the Asian Cup in January they would have been offered long odds against the possibility.
Phoenix striker Nathan Burns has been named in the Socceroos’ Asian Cup squad. Photo: Getty
The 26-year-old still might be up against it shoving Mathew Leckie, Robbie Kruse and Tim Cahill out of the way, but the fact that his recent goal glut has seen him grab an 11th-hour place in the national squad for the tournament makes him a viable option.
Burns, along with Sydney midfielder Terry Antonis and West Sydney Wanderers striker Tomi Juric are the newest faces in the 23-man party Socceroo coach Ange Postecoglou on Tuesday named for the tournament.
The group is headed by captain Mile Jedinak and veterans Mark Bresciano and striker Tim Cahill, but it also contains most of the names that have become familiar during Postecoglou’s 14-month reign in the job, including some of the A-League’s best-known players – Adelaide goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic, Melbourne Victory captain Mark Milligan, Brisbane skipper Matt McKay and Wanderers centre back Matt Spiranovic, as well as the three fresh faces in Burns, Antonis and Juric.
Men like Oliver Bozanic, James Holland, Adam Taggart and Ben Halloran, all of whom made the World Cup squad in Brazil, have been left out, while an unlucky candidate was Melbourne City midfielder Aaron Mooy, who came close to selection.
Postecoglou has tried and tested, searched and sifted and come up with a group that, he believes, is as close as he can get to the right mix for a tournament that the Socceroos will enter under a weight of expectation, despite – or maybe because – of their run of disappointing results over the past few months.
Postecoglou has always said he chose a series of difficult games away from home in the lead-up to the Asian Cup to temper his young squad with steel and speed their development in the international arena. His moment of truth is fast approaching.
The selection of Burns who has been in sparkling form during the A-League campaign since joining the Kiwis, netting 10 goals – including two in the ‘Nix’s 2-0 win over Sydney on Sunday – is one that merits his excellent recent form. He will be hoping to impress even more in training to gain a starting berth when the Socceroos begin their pursuit of silverware against Kuwait in Melbourne on January 9.
It is a tremendous turnaround for the one-time Adelaide United and Newcastle Jets forward, whose career nosedived after disappointing spells in Greece and South Korea.
“Form is probably the No. 1 thing,” the coach said when asked about Burns. “But there’s also a factor of whether players will fit into the style of football I want to play … it’s whether I believe people will fit into the style of football I want to play and the evolution of this team.
“I coached Mathan at under-17 level so I always knew he had the ability, and I think he’s the type of player who will fit into what we do. His form has been compelling, if you are a striker and scoring goals that’s pretty compelling getting you into the team.”
Burns was part of Holger Osieck’s squad that finished runners-up in the 2011 Asian Cup when they were beaten in extra time in the final by Japan and is one of seven players who were in that party, alongside Cahill, Jedinak, Robbie Kruse, Tommy Oar, McKay and Spiranovic, who will be seeking to go one better here.
The closest thing to a “bolter” in this line-up is Sydney FC midfielder Terry Antonis, but even his inclusion hardly comes as a surprise given the impact he has made in recent seasons.
Antonis was due to be part of the Socceroo squad that played Japan in a recent friendly but was injured in a car crash en route to the airport and could not take part.
“It’s been almost six months in the making since the FIFA World Cup,” Postecoglou said.
“We’ve had a series of games where there have been some pretty clear objectives, particularly in terms of broadening the pool and seeing whether we could get some better balance in the squad and more depth.”
“In the end, I’m pretty pleased with the 23 we’ve ended up with, there’s a good combination of the core of the group that went to the FIFA World Cup, there’s some experience there, but also a sprinkling of guys who will enhance the squad we took to the FIFA World Cup,” the coach said.
“This group of players have been thrown some unique challenges, particularly in the last six months in difficult conditions against formidable opponents but that’s to get them battle hardened. It’s going to be nice for them to walk out in front of a full house having that support behind them.
“There’s always players who are a little bit unlucky not to be in it but we wanted to make it fairly competitive and we wanted players being on edge as to whether they would be selected.
“I had a pretty clear picture of a pool of about 30 players. We had to make decisions on the balance of the squad and picking one that was tournament specific.
“I felt going into the World Cup we didn’t have depth in certain areas, and we were doing a patch-up job trying to cover them, the last six months has been about making sure we have got cover in all the areas we need to and making sure we have got depth.”
Squad: Terry Antonis, Aziz Behich, Mark Bresciano, Nathan Burns, Tim Cahill, Jason Davidson, Ivan Franjic, Eugene Galekovic (GK), Chris Herd, Mile Jedinak, Tomi Juric, Robbie Kruse, Mitchell Langerak (GK), Mathew Leckie, Massimo Luongo, Matt McKay, Mark Milligan, Tommy Oar, Mat Ryan (GK), Trent Sainsbury, Matthew Spiranovic, James Troisi, Alex Wilkinson.
Source : The Canberra Times