Bruno Fornaroli named in Socceroos squad for crucial World Cup qualifiers | World Cup 2022 qualifiers

Bruno Fornaroli is in the running to make an unlikely Socceroos debut at the age of 34, after the Uruguay-born striker was included in an extended squad for Australia’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Japan and Saudi Arabia.

Fornaroli, who was recently granted Australian citizenship after arriving in the country in 2015, has opted to switch his national allegiance in the twilight of his career, having already represented Uruguay’s under-17 youth team in 2003.

The Perth Glory veteran’s paperwork has been submitted to Fifa and is expected to be rubber-stamped in time for Thursday’s must-win games in Sydney against Japan and Saudi Arabia a week later.

Since arriving at Melbourne City seven years ago, Fornaroli has forged a reputation as one of the A-League Men’s best strikers. In 138 combined matches for City and Glory he has found the back of the net 81 times.

His path to Socceroos contention is mirrored by that of Gianni Stensness, who represented New Zealand at youth level but has also been called up for Graham Arnold’s 27-man list, which features a total of five uncapped players, three of whom are involved for the first time.

Along with Fornaroli, Nathaniel Atkinson and Nicholas D’Agostino will get their first taste of a Socceroos camp in Sydney next week, while the uncapped Kye Rowles has been called up again.

City striker Jamie Maclaren is expected to lead the line against Japan, but will have to depart the set-up ahead of the trip to Jeddah due to his upcoming wedding.

The next few weeks shape as critical to the fortunes of Graham Arnold’s side, who find themselves in third place in Asian qualifying group B, three points behind Japan and a further point off group leaders Saudi Arabia with two games to play.

The top-two teams qualify automatically for the tournament later this year, while the third-placed team face a further intercontinental tie to reach Qatar.

The Socceroos have already guaranteed at least third place, but back-to-back wins at Stadium Australia next week and at the King Abdullah Sports City the following Wednesday will secure an automatic place at the World Cup.

“This window represents a great opportunity for our players and staff to do something truly special for Australian football, and we will be focusing all our energies on producing two great performances against Japan and Saudi Arabia and lifting the Socceroos to the World Cup,” Arnold said.

“But I truly view March 2022 as a win-win window for this group. With a play-off spot for June already locked in, if required, the players will be able to come to camp with clear minds as to what’s ahead of them, and enjoy the time that they have working hard together and playing in front of their family, friends, and fans.”

Arnold said he had been “energised” by the response of the new faces in the camp to their call-ups.

“That it means as much to a Bruno [Fornaroli], Nathaniel [Atkinson], Nick [D’Agostino], Kye [Rowles], or Gianni [Stensness], players who have yet to take the pitch for Australia, as it does for a Maty [Ryan] or ‘Lecks’ [Mathew Leckie] highlights to me that they can’t wait to be back together to tackle this challenge head on and continue this great journey together.”

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