The four central midfielders clashing in Saturday night’s Sydney A-League derby could be rewarded with more than just bragging rights with a potential international call-up in the offing for one of the defensive midfielders.
While far from the forefront of their minds, Western Sydney Wanderers’ defensive midfielder duo Kearyn Baccus and Chris Herd and Sydney FC workhorses Brandon O’Neill and Josh Brillante could find themselves in the frame for a shock selection to the Socceroos squad with coach Ange Postecoglou facing a potential dearth in his defensive midfield stocks.
The Socceroos will be without Mark Milligan for their first-leg play-off match against Honduras, while captain Mile Jedinak remains in doubt having been restricted to just 45 minutes of football for his club, Aston Villa, due to injury.
Of concern for Postecoglou is the lack of young defensive midfielders in the national team set-up which means Postecoglou could be forced to look for local options to bolster his stocks for the crucial qualifier.
Brillante and Baccus have had the brightest starts to the season having impressed significantly in possession. The two are the leading n centre-midfielders with completed passes from the opening two games of the season.
Alongside Melbourne City’s Luke Brattan and Austria-based James Jeggo, the four in the engine room in the Sydney derby are the best domestic candidates. O’Neill says the only chance he and his partner Brillante have of staking a claim for Socceroos selection lies in continuing their form at club level, beginning with the derby.
“Me and Joshy are concentrating on our roles at Sydney FC but it would be lovely if that happens. Me and Joshy would be the first ones to put our hands up,” O’Neill said. “What an honour it is to play for your country. We’d obviously jump at that situation, but first and foremost our job is at Sydney FC to make sure we do our jobs and make sure we win football matches.”
Postecoglou has shown his willingness to throw debutants into high-pressure games, putting his faith in Matt Jurman to start in both of the Socceroos’ recent play-off games against Syria. While none of the quartet have been selected during this World Cup qualifying campaign, two of those that are set to run the middle of the park at Allianz Stadium featured significantly in the early days of Postecoglou’s tenure as Socceroos coach.
Four of Brillante’s five appearances for the national team came in 2014 where he played as a defensive midfielder and right fullback under Postecoglou. All of Herd’s three games for were under Postecoglou. The Wanderers midfielder was part of the 2015 Asian Cup squad but withdrew early from the tournament after sustaining an ankle injury during a warm-up at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.
Neither O’Neill nor Baccus have been capped at senior international level, though the Sydney central midfielder represented at youth level, making two appearances for the Olyroos. Baccus has pledged his allegiance to over his country of birth, South Africa, who have been hot on the heels of the 26-year-old.
The Durban-born Baccus rejected a call-up from South Africa in March when he was given an opportunity to be part of their World Cup qualifying campaign. In April, Baccus told Fairfax Media that was largely due to his long-term goal being to represent the Socceroos.