Teen sensation set for Socceroos debut

Nestory Irankunda has been named in a 25-man Socceroos squad. Picture: Martin Keep / AFP
Nestory Irankunda has been named in a 25-man Socceroos squad. Picture: Martin Keep / AFP

National coach Graham Arnold has promised Bayern Munich-bound prodigy Nestory Irankunda won’t just be given token minutes to tie him to the Socceroos following his selection in Australia’s squad for next month’s World Cup qualifiers against Bangladesh and Palestine.

Arnold on Wednesday named a 25-man squad, and it included uncapped teenager Irankunda, as well as former whiz-kid Daniel Arzani, who hasn’t played for the Socceroos since the 2018 World Cup.

Irankunda caused a stir last week when he said he would consider playing for Tanzania or Burundi – both of whom he is eligible to play for – if he wasn’t picked for Australia.

Arnold admitted he was “surprised” by the comments, but was also heartened by Irankunda saying his “dream was to play with the Socceroos”.

“When I spoke to him last week, that was his dream, and his dream will be fulfilled,” Arnold vowed.

“I would never force anyone to play for the nation unless they really want to.

“I’ve had the conversations with Nestor and he wants the (Socceroos) badge on his heart, and that’s the most important thing.

“I wouldn’t be just capping people. I’ve never done that, because it’s so important that not only that the kid or the player wants it, it’s also what the family wants.

“It’s very important that (his) mum and dad are behind those decisions, and obviously they are, so it’s not just about capping them and getting locked down for life.

“It’s about them representing the nation that they want to represent and doing that nation proud ... not just for one or two minutes.”

Irankunda, who is leaving Adelaide United to join German giants Bayern Munich, will also have Reds assistant coach Mark Milligan help him settle into Socceroos camp after Arnold chose Milligan to be part of his coaching staff for the two matches.

Fellow attacking weapon Arzani, 25, earnt his recall after helping Melbourne Victory reach the A-League grand final.

“He’s had a very good season under (Victory coach) Tony Popovic, (who) has got the best out of him,” Arnold said of Arzani.

“You can see his workrate defensively has improved out of sight. He still has that action, and what I have been impressed with is his final ball, his final pass, or his end product, that has stepped up level, which is great.

“It gives us an opportunity for Daniel to come across and fit back into the mould of the Socceroos, and that it’s all about attitude as well.”

As revealed by News Corp Australia last week, Socceroos captain and goalkeeper Mat Ryan wasn’t chosen, with Arnold “resting” him due to a knee problem.

Overall, there are 11 changes from the squad that beat Lebanon twice in March.

Out are Ryan, injured quartet Brandon Borrello, Craig Goodwin, Riley McGree and Tom Glover, as well as defenders Nathaniel Atkinson and Thomas Deng, midfielder Patrick Yazbek, and attackers Bruno Fornaroli, John Iredale and Sammy Silvera.

Apart from Irankunda and Arzani, coming into the squad are defenders Aziz Behich, Alessandro Circati and Ryan Strain, midfielder Cameron Devlin, uncapped striker Apostolos Stamatelopoulos, wingers Martin Boyle and Mathew Leckie, and goalkeepers Paul Izzo and Lawrence Thomas.

Uncapped pair Nestory Irankunda (left) and Apostolos Stamatelopoulos have been named in Australia’s 25-man squad for two World Cup qualifying matches next month. Picture: Martin Keep / AFP
Uncapped pair Nestory Irankunda (left) and Apostolos Stamatelopoulos have been named in Australia’s 25-man squad for two World Cup qualifying matches next month. Picture: Martin Keep / AFP

“We’ve got several players who’ve had significant workloads in recent times, and it’s important we give them a proper break,” Arnold said.

“I want to ensure they’re physically and mentally prepared for another big 12 months of


“This has also allowed us to provide opportunities to players who have been performing well at their clubs as we continue to build depth right across the pitch.

“Our leadership group of Jackson (Irvine), Aziz (Behich) Mat (Leckie), Harry (Souttar) and Adam (Taggart) will have an important role to play throughout this camp in welcoming those players, as they demonstrate the core values that are central to the Socceroos’ culture.”

Despite having already qualified for the third round of the Asian Football Confederation World Cup qualifiers, the Socceroos are desperate to beat Bangladesh in Dhaka next Thursday, and Palestine in Perth on June 11 to give them the best possible chance of being among the three nations in pot one for the round-three draw.

“I’ve spoken about how important these two games are when it comes to official FIFA rankings, and while we’ve qualified for round three it’s important that we take all six points,” Arnold said.

“It’s an expectation we set ourselves as a group and as always, getting our mentality right will be crucial to securing two wins and giving ourselves the highest possible ranking ahead of the draw for round three.”

Socceroos squad: Daniel Arzani (Melbourne Victory), Keanu Baccus (Mansfield Town), Aziz Behich (Al-Nassr), Jordy Bos (KVC Westerlo), Martin Boyle (Hibs), Cameron Burgess (Ipswich Town), Alessandro Circati (Parma), Cameron Devlin (Hearts), Mitchell Duke (Machida Zelvia), Joe Gauci (Aston Villa), Ajdin Hrustic (Heracles Almelo), Nestory Irankunda (Adelaide United/Bayern Munich), Jackson Irvine (St Pauli), Paul Izzo (Melbourne Victory), Gethin Jones (Bolton Wanderers), Mathew Leckie (Melbourne City), Connor Metcalfe (St. Pauli), Josh Nisbet (Central Coast Mariners), Kye Rowles (Hearts), Harry Souttar (Leicester City), Apostolos Stamatelopoulos (Newcastle Jets), Ryan Strain (St Mirren), Adam Taggart (Perth Glory), Lawrence Thomas (Western Sydney Wanderers), Kusini Yengi (Portsmouth).