MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia coach Ange Postecoglou has dismissed concerns about Tim Cahill’s lack of match fitness and selected the veteran striker in his final 23-man squad for crunch World Cup qualifiers against Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.
The 37-year-old Cahill was overlooked for the qualifier against Thailand in November and has spent little time on the pitch at club level for Melbourne City in the past month but he remains the nation’s go-to man when the pressure is on.
Australia’s disappointing 2-2 draw in Bangkok saw them slip to third behind in Asia’s Group B behind Saudi Arabia and Japan, outside the top two spots that guarantee automatic qualification for next year’s global showpiece in Russia.
The Socceroos will hope to revive their campaign with victory over Iraq in Tehran on March 23 before United Arab Emirates visit in Sydney on March 28, the first of three home matches which round out their qualifying campaign.
Australia’s most prolific scorer with 48 goals from 94 appearances, Cahill has a long track record of rescuing the Socceroos and found the net three times in qualifiers last year.
“From our perspective, it’s not the first time we’ve brought Timmy in with limited game time,” Postecoglou said on Tuesday.
”He’s proved pretty resilient in the past in being able to do a job for us.
”With Timmy, there’s no expectations on him to play two 90 minutes of football.
“It’s more about the impact he can make in the two games.”
Cahill joins a strong squad, with striker Tomi Juric and midfielder Massimo Luongo recalled after missing the Thailand game through injury.
Postecoglou shed seven from the 30-man squad he named last week but has retained Adelaide United’s Riley McGree, an 18-year-old midfielder, among five uncapped players.
A shock call-up, McGree has played just 13 matches in Australia’s top-flight but Postecoglou said he would not hesitate to blood the teenager if he showed enough at training.
“We haven’t had in the A-League too many teenagers even getting a run these days. I thought he looked exciting from the moment he broke into the (Adelaide) team,” said Postecoglou.
”I think in the past we’ve just waiting too long, particularly with some of our younger players.
“We’ll give him an opportunity and see how he adapts to the environment.”
Melbourne Victory forward James Troisi and Perth Glory defender Rhys Williams, back in the national frame after three injury-plagued years, also survived the squad’s cut to 23.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Mulvenney