Australia booked their place at next summer’s World Cup thanks to a sensational hat-trick from 33-year-old captain Mile Jedinak earlier this month. His coolness under pressure saw the Socceroos through a tricky playoff against Honduras, and they only made it that far thanks to the heroics of Tim Cahill. Now 37, Australia’s all-time leading scorer rolled back the years to come to his team’s rescue with two superbly taken goals to see them past Syria in the first playoff round.
Both Cahill and Jedinak have been fantastic servants to the team over the years, but they now have a combined age of 70 and Australia cannot continue to rely on them for much longer. So who are the future stars of Australian football?
Iknonomidis was rejected by several A-league teams and the NSW Institute of Sport, written off as too slow to make it in Australia, so he left at the age of 16 to pursue his dream. “I always believed in myself and I believed that football in Australia wasn’t for me, I was more of a European player,” he said.
His gamble paid off when he was signed by Serie A giants Lazio and he impressed on his debut against St Etienne in the Europa League. Successful loan spells at Salernitana and Danish outfit Aarhus GK have seen his star rise further and he has now broken into the Socceroos squad, aged 22, having turned down the chance to represent Greece.
The left back plies his trade in Norway for champions Rosenborg, who forked out $500,000 to snap him up as a teenager. He had already emerged as one of the best young talents in the A-league and put in several eye-catching performances for Sydney FC, where his departure was seen as a crushing blow to their title aspirations.
He is now 20 and has a full season in Europe under his belt. He made 34 appearances as Rosenborg won a record 25th league title last season, and he is well-established as an Australian international. He represented the team at various youth levels and now has four caps for the full team.
Gersbach looks a sure bet to be a permanent fixture in the Australian national team for many years to come.
McGree was one of the hottest properties in Australian football thanks to his successful spell at Adelaide, where he lit up the Asian Champions League with some exciting performances.
That persuaded Club Brugge to sign him and the young midfielder has continued to impress in Belgium. Scottish clubs Celtic and Rangers are now sniffing around, hoping to turn him into the next Tom Rogic, and he was a shock inclusion in Ange Postecoglou’s recent World Cup squad.
He has yet to make a full debut but it seems only a matter of time for the energetic midfielder. The Socceroos are huge outsiders for the World Cup in the latest soccer odds, but if they give youth a chance to flourish they could make a splash at future tournaments.
Melbourne-born Hrustic played youth football for South Melbourne and then German powerhouse Schalke 04 before moving to Groningen, where he has impressed in the Eredivisie. He made his Australia debut against Brazil earlier this year, and should have plenty of opportunities to add to that cap going forwards as he has bags of potential.
Like Ikonomidis, he too was subject to a tug of war as Bosnia wanted to make him their own (he has Bosnian parents), but he pledged his future to his country of birth rather than line up alongside Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic.
Despite being just 23 years of age, the left winger has already been capped 19 times by his country, played for one of the most successful club teams in history and been subject to the biggest transfer fee ever paid for an Australian.
Smith moved to England at the age of 14 and joined the Liverpool FC academy before going on to dazzle for the youth team at the Premiership heavyweight club. He won the Liverpool Academy’s Players’ Player award and made his Premiership debut against Chelsea in 2013. He made just five appearances in total for the Reds, but that was enough to convince Bournemouth to pay $10.5 million for his services, matching the fee Leeds paid for Mark Viduka in 2000.
He has 19 international caps and is sure to be one of the Socceroos’ leading lights for years to come.
Martin Green is an experienced sports writer and has been covering international football for many years.