MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia coach Bert van Marwijk’s snub of in-form striker Jamie Maclaren and a marketing campaign centred on veteran Tim Cahill have prompted some local soccer fans to suggest commercial interests have trumped form in the team’s World Cup selections.
Maclaren, who scored a hat-trick for Scottish side Hibernian in their 5-5 league draw with Rangers on Sunday, was one of six cut from Van Marwijk’s initial 32-man squad, along with goalkeeper Mitch Langerak and defender Bailey Wright.
Cahill, who has played barely an hour of football in the past six months since crossing to second tier English side Millwall, survived the cut, keeping his hopes alive of playing at a fourth World Cup at the age of 38.
Van Marwijk has declined to guarantee him a spot in his final 23 for Russia but a promotional campaign pushed by the Socceroos’ naming rights sponsor, Caltex Australia, suggested it was a done deal.
The company, which also sponsors Cahill, said it would rebrand five of its “marquee” petrol stations across the country to “Cahilltex” in honour of Australia’s all-time top scorer throughout May and June.
“Along with many Australians who are big fans of the Caltex Socceroos, we will follow Tim and the team’s efforts closely,” company executive Richard Pearson said in a media release.
With Cahill by far Australia’s highest profile soccer player, fans aired their suspicions on social media that commercial considerations had been a bigger factor than form in Van Marwijk’s squad.
“Ohhh.... @Tim_Cahill’s inclusion in the squad makes sense now purely for this pun. #MACLARENTEX doesn’t have the same ring to it,” one Twitter user wrote.
Football Federation Australia boss David Gallop denied the governing body had influenced Van Marwijk’s selections.
“Have a look at Tim Cahill’s track record,” Gallop told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday. “He’s a guy who has produced for the Socceroos and Australia so many times.”
Cahill, who has scored 50 goals in 105 internationals, has netted five times across World Cups in Germany (2006), South Africa (2010) and Brazil (2014).
Maclaren, capped five times, has been the country’s most prolific scorer in Europe-based competitions in recent months but misses out to Cahill, Tomi Juric and Israel-based forward Nikita Rukavytsya.
The 24-year-old posted on Twitter that it was “time to switch off from football and enjoy a holiday” but made no reference to his omission.
Melbourne City’s teenage attacking midfielder Daniel Arzani and Croatia-based defender Fran Karacic, the surprise pair in Van Marwijk’s initial squad, were retained in the 26.
The Socceroos head to Turkey this week for a training camp after which Van Marwijk will announce his final 23 before the FIFA deadline on June 4.
Australia face France, Denmark and Peru in Group C at the June 14-July 15 finals.
Goalkeepers - Mat Ryan (Brighton and Hove Albion, England), Danny Vukovic (Genk, Belgium), Brad Jones (Feyenoord, Netherlands).
Defenders - Aziz Behich (Bursaspor, Turkey), Milos Degenek (Yokohama F. Marinos, Japan), Matthew Jurman (Suwon Bluewings, South Korea), James Meredith (Millwall, England), Josh Risdon (Western Sydney), Trent Sainsbury (Grasshoppers Zurich, Switzerland), Fran Karacic (NK Lokomotiva, Croatia).
Midfielders - Josh Brillante (Sydney FC), Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa, England), Jackson Irvine (Hull City, England), Robbie Kruse (Bochum, Germany), Massimo Luongo (Queens Park Rangers, England), Mark Milligan (Al Ahli, Saudi Arabia), Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town, England), Tom Rogic (Celtic, Scotland), James Troisi (Melbourne Victory).
Forwards - Tim Cahill (Millwall, England), Tomi Juric (FC Luzern, Switzerland), Matthew Leckie (Hertha Berlin, Germany), Andrew Nabbout (Urawa Red Diamonds, Japan), Nikita Rukavytsya (Maccabi Haifa, Israel), Dimitri Petratos (Newcastle Jets), Daniel Arzani (Melbourne City).
Additional reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru, editing by Peter Rutherford