Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk acknowledged emotions were running high as he cut Australia’s squad at the FIFA World Cup from 27 players to 23.
The 66-year-old Dutchman had to break the news to defender Fran Karacic, midfielder Josh Brillante and forward pair James Troisi and Nikita Rukavytsya that their World Cup dreams were over.
There was good news to share, too, with 19-year-old whiz kid Daniel Arzani and striker Jamie Maclaren both selected after impressing in a Turkey training camp.
Arzani had not even started an A-League match in January, while Maclaren was initially cut from the World Cup squad before winning a reprieve to the camp after forward Tomi Juric suffered an injury.
And it was a chance he grabbed with both hands as van Marwijk eventually settled for a squad that gives him many different options in attack.
“They are always the most hard decisions,” van Marwijk said of telling players they would not be part of Australia’s final squad for the biggest event in world sport.
“I’ve had the experiences a few times. I told them a few weeks (ago) as we started that this moment would come.
“We have to think as a professional (but) it’s always an emotional day for everybody.”
Explaining his decision to overlook right back Karacic, who has never been to Australia, and Sydney FC midfielder Brillante, van Marwijk added: “Defending – I think we have enough players.
“Very positive is the development of [right back] Joshua Risdon … I have enough central defenders and defending midfield players the same.
“Now I have more options in front with several types of central forwards, number nines.”
Maclaren’s initial omission from van Marwijk’s squad raised eyebrows given the forward’s strong form on loan at Scottish Premiership club Hibernian.
Maclaren netted eight goals in 11 starts for the Edinburgh-based club and van Marwijk said that, with the benefit of hindsight, he got his first decision on the striker wrong.
“He made a good impression. I think I need him. It was difficult for him because he was already on vacation for I think eight or nine days [before being recalled],” he said.
“I wanted to give him a real chance.”
‘He wanted to be a neurosurgeon’
Arzani, the youngest player to ever feature in a World Cup squad for Australia, moved Down Under from Iran at the age of seven.
He quickly progressed through the ranks and showed enough for Melbourne City in the A-League this year to win a popular call-up.
Arzani’s trickery and creative flair give van Marwijk an option he did not have otherwise and the former’s parents told the ABC they were overwhelmed with joy when they found out their son was going to Russia.
“When he told us, I was crying. And I was so happy,” his mother, Sima, said.
John Arzani, the teenager’s father, said that his son wanted to be a footballer and a neurosurgeon when he was growing up, but was advised to pick one or the other.
He also said that despite talk of a potential tug-of-war between Australia and Iran for Daniel’s services, his heart was with Australia.
“I’m very glad we migrated to Australia. I love Australia,” he said.
“I love the culture, the environment, the warmness of the people in Australia. I love it.
“We owe something. I wish that Daniel will make Australia proud of him and that he’ll make the soccer family proud of him too.”
Daniel made his debut in Australia’s 4-0 friendly win over the Czech Republic on Friday, coming off the bench in the dying stages.
Australia plays its final friendly against Hungary in Budapest on Sunday morning (1.30am kick-off) before the World Cup begins on June 14.