Predicting the Socceroos' 2026 World Cup squad

DOHA, Qatar -- One eye on the Asian Cup, two eyes on the World Cup. That's how Australia coach Graham Arnold described his thought process in picking his 26-player squad for the 2023 Asian Cup, a unit that would ultimately see their campaign end at the hands of South Korea in the quarterfinals.

As is Arnold's tradition, it was a phrase he repeated early and often. But unfortunately for him, it also only appears to have achieved a level of cut through with the public after his side's exit, as frustrations were high in the wake of his third successive quarterfinal continental exit as boss of Australia, and after a series of performances in which the side struggled to operate under the weight of favouritism -- a challenge confronting many of Asia's old guard.

As ever, the Socceroos brought a defensively sound outfit to Doha, conceding just a single goal from open play and just three overall. Being stout is never a bad thing and opposition coaches would routinely praise the defence of the Socceroos when describing Asia's best. But this was paired with an attack that consistently struggled to create chances. A lot of anvil, but not a lot of hammer.

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There was a combined one shot on target in group games against Syria and Uzbekistan and it took 80 minutes to eventually wear away Indonesia in the round of 16. It was only in the familiar embrace of the underdog role, with just 26% possession and a game plan built on absorbing blows from a well-credentialed opponent in South Korea did the Socceroos begin to look, paradoxically, comfortable. And even then, their late retreat to defend a lead was penetrated in the 96th minute, and there was little scope to regather and adjust.

But with the Asian Cup now over, Arnold's talk of having two eyes on the World Cup brings that road, which continues against Lebanon next month, into sharp focus. But who will be there?

There are limits to what one can project this far out from the World Cup, with a full two-and-a-half years still to go until the first ball is kicked at the tournament hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada. Not only do we have Arnold's projections that several veteran figures in the national setup may soon begin to transition away, but we have evidence of his previous cycle to go off.

Of the 23-player squad that featured for Arnold at the 2019 Asian Cup, 14 weren't there three-and-a-half years later when the Socceroos headed to Doha, while 17 of the 31-player squad that resumed World Cup qualifying in June 2021 weren't a part of the 2022 World Cup squad.

Within that World Cup unit, 10 players possessed five or fewer caps at the time of the squad announcement and a further two, Craig Goodwin and Harry Souttar, had only just brought up their 10th.

In other words, it's probably almost impossible to say with any kind of certainty what the make-up of Australia's squad come June 2026 will be. Some players will retire, some players will get injured and others will simply drop off in form. Other players will emerge, young ones, late developers who find a way to put things all together or, based on trends under Arnold, possibly someone who discovers some relative with ties Down Under and who develops a sudden strong affinity for. "Aussie DNA."

With that in mind, this depth chart piece looks a little different from the standard fare. Rather than try to make the best estimation of what the 2026 squad will look like, this piece instead breaks each position down into various categories. There are best odds for obvious frontrunners, players that will be in their primes, youngsters looking to bolt from the blue, and veterans looking to battle time.

Note that only players who have publicly pledged their senior allegiance to the Socceroos or been recently capped by Australia at a senior or junior level were considered for this depth chart, meaning that players like Noa Skoko, Liam Chipperfield and Cristian Volpato are not included.

And yes, everything written below operates on the assumption that Australia qualifies for the 2026 World Cup. If they can't, then they've got bigger problems than any presuppositions in depth chart articles.


Best odds for 2026: Mathew Ryan, Joe Gauci
Prime years: Tom Glover, Ashley Maynard-Brewer
Players looking to rise: Anthony Pavleőić, Nicholas Bilokapic, Steven Hall, Cameron Cook
Veterans: Lawrence Thomas

With Ryan already back to keeping clean sheets at AZ Alkmaar and Gauci now on his way to Aston Villa, the most likely question the two will face over coming years isn't if they will be at the 2026 World Cup, but who will be the No. 1 by the time it rolls around? Ryan is well-entrenched and, at 31, is still relatively spry in goalkeeper terms but Gauci has made no secret of his desires to push him for the role.

Glover has been getting regular football at Middlesbrough after first-choice keeper Seny Dieng suffered an injury that kept him out of the Africa Cup of Nations. If the former Melbourne City keeper can establish himself at the Riverside Stadium, he should be well placed for 2026, when he will be 28.

Maynard-Brewer has been in Socceroos camp before and is starting regularly at League One strugglers Charlton Athletic but the one to watch in Enlgand's third tier is Bilokapic. The former Sydney United junior is three years younger than Maynard-Brewer and starting regularly at Peterborough United, who are challenging for promotion to the Championship.

Pavleőić and Hall are both exciting prospects in the academies of Bayern Munich and Brighton & Hove Albion, respectively, while Perth Glory youngster Cook has been the best of the under-23 goalkeepers this year. Thomas, meanwhile, was part of Arnold's Asian Cup squad and, at 31, shouldn't experience any kind of drop-off in coming years.


Best odds for 2026: Jordan Bos, Aziz Behich
Prime years: Joel King
Players looking to rise: Jacob Farrell, Franco Lino
Veterans: Callum Elder, Jack Iredale, Jason Davidson

Bos has routinely been used on the left wing by Arnold and that's probably going to continue in the immediate future but, at some point, the transition surely has to come wherein he takes over from Behich as the Socceroos' first choice left-back. The veteran, however, isn't going to go quietly. As someone who keeps himself in excellent physical condition, remains one of the Socceroos' better contributors, and is trusted by Arnold, the newest member of Cristiano Ronaldo's Al Nassr side may keep Bos on the wing for a while longer than we all might anticipate.

At just 23, King still has plenty of time to rediscover the form that helped justify his selection in the 2022 World Cup squad but with Farrell, 21, increasingly banging down the door with the Central Coast Mariners King is rapidly falling down the pecking order -- and that's to say nothing of Lino, 18, earning a move to Viking FK for a tidy fee based off his massive potential.

Elder, Iredale, and Davidson are all playing in Europe but, given that Bos and Behich are both so firmly established, it's difficult to see a pathway to 2026 short of injuries or an unprecedented rise in form.


Best odds for 2026: Harry Souttar, Alessandro Circati, Kye Rowles
Prime years: Thomas Deng, Gianni Stensness
Players looking to rise: Nectarios Triantis, Alexandar Popovic, Mark Natta, Kai Trewin, Jake Girdwood-Reich
Veterans: Cameron Burgess, MiloΕ‘ Degenek

Souttar urgently needs to get his club sorted out in the near term -- post-Asian Cup, Arnold really can't justify starting them if he's not playing for Leicester City -- but you'd be backing the towering centre-back to eventually figure things out and be playing regularly, playing well, and be ready to lead the Socceroos into 2026. The hope will be that Circati will be a Serie A regular with Parma by the time 2026 rolls around and, based on his current trajectory, he should be a regular for the Socceroos by that point. Rowles brings an ability to play centrally or on the left that Arnold appreciates and is well ensconced in Scotland at Hearts.

Deng's battle with illness at the Asian Cup prevented him from featuring during the tournament, but he'll be 29 in 2026 and ostensibly well-suited to contribute if he keeps playing in the J1 League or at a similar level. Burgess, meanwhile, has become well-established in the past 12 months and will continue to feature if he can maintain his form at clubland, with Ipswich Town currently amid a Premier League push.

In hindsight, the versatility of both Stensness and Degenek were sorely missed at the Asian Cup, as both could have played defensive midfield in a pinch and the latter could have also filled in at right-back. The former will be 27 and in his prime in 2026 but given the mentality of Degenek, you'd be backing him to be physically capable even if he'll be in his 30s, he just needs to get back to playing regularly.

Triantis, meanwhile, leads a promising cohort of young centre-backs looking to come through, with the former Mariner now reunited with Nick Montgomery on loan at Hibernian as he seeks to string together some senior starts and properly kick-start his European career.


Best odds for 2026: Ryan Strain, Nathaniel Atkinson
Prime years: Lewis Miller
Players looking to rise: Callum Talbot, Giuseppe Bovalina
Veterans: Gethin Jones, Fran Karacic

Even though he missed the Asian Cup with an injury, Strain was perhaps the biggest long-term winner from that tournament amongst the right-back core, with the absence of the 26-year-old notable as Australia battled to lock down its right flank. Atkinson, 24, probably had the best performance of any the players in Doha, putting in a great shift before being forced off with fatigue against Korea, and shapes as a pretty safe bet for 2026.

Miller, 23, obviously had a horror game against South Korea as he gave away the free kick and penalty that led to the two goals that eliminated the Socceroos but, at his age, will be backed to bounce back by Arnold.

Jones is probably a better chance at 2026 than Karacic given that he is a regular at Bolton Wanderers, but there's a sense heading into this cycle that there exists an onus on him to supplant one of the right-back positions, rather than defend one.


Best odds for 2026: Keanu Baccus
Prime years: Denis Genreau, Aiden O'Neill, Cameron Devlin, Josh Nisbet
Players looking to rise: Ryan Teague, Alex Robertson, Calem Nieuwenhof, Jonny Yull, Patrick Yazbek, Jake Hollman, Paul Okon-Engstler, Caleb Watts
Veterans: Jackson Irvine

If he can avoid injury, Baccus feels like he's one of the most likely figures for 2026, played regularly at the base of the midfield after winning Arnold's trust in the lead into 2022 and is only set to turn 28 days out from the next World Cup. Perhaps the best bolster to his candidacy would be a move from St Mirren to a higher level of competition, be it to England or somewhere on the continent.

Irvine is almost in that odds-on category but will be 33 by the time the tournament rolls around, meaning he can't be considered a sure thing. However, one would imagine he would be given every opportunity to contribute if he's physically able and if he's knocking around the Bundesliga with St Pauli by then, it's a no-brainer Arnold will take him.

Genreau has had a nightmare run with injury as of late but possesses a skillset that would make him a significant asset to the Socceroos and should be in the middle of his prime when 2026 arrives. O'Neill will turn 28 during the tournament and has a strong base to build on if he can continue to regularly play in Europe. Yazbek, meanwhile, has had a taste of the senior setup now and has caught the attention of the national team staff.

Positively, keeping the pressure on this group will be a host of promising young players coming through the ranks, as well as more established figures in Devlin and Nisbet waiting in the wings. Teague, Robertson, and Nieuwenhof, especially, are three that most Socceroos fans should be hoping are at a level where they simply demand selection when 2026 rolls around.


Best odds for 2026: Connor Metcalfe, Riley McGree
Prime years: Denis Genreau
Players looking to rise: Alex Robertson, Nicolas Milanovic
Veterans: Ajdin Hrustic

Metcalfe and McGree are probably the two safest outfield bets to feature in 2026 after Souttar, the former to be 26 when the World Cup rolls around and the latter to be 27. Given St Pauli's lead atop the 2. Bundesliga, the hope would be that Metcalfe would be in the German top flight by that point, or at least a similar level, and McGree would continue to have gone from strength to strength at Middlesbrough or elsewhere.

Manchester City youngster Robertson finally found his footing at a senior level with Portsmouth before his calf injury, with the case to be made that Arnold should have taken him to the Asian Cup. Playing regular football for the Western Sydney Wanderers, Milanovic may soon find himself off to Europe and will likely be pushing for senior selection at some point in the future.

Hrustic, however, is the wild card. No Socceroo in recent times have demonstrated the same level of creativity as he has when fit, and his absence from the Asian Cup squad was painfully felt as Australia tried to unlock embedded defences. He'll turn 30 during the next World Cup and, given that injury robbed him of the chance to properly contribute in 2022, it may prove his last proper chance to shine for the Socceroos a major tournament. It's in everyone's best interest that his current loan move to Heracles Almelo works out and he's demanding a spot on the plane in two and a half years.


Best odds for 2026: Jordan Bos, Marco Tilio
Prime years: Samuel Silvera, Daniel Arzani, Connor Metcalfe, Riley McGree, Nishan Velupillay
Players looking to rise: Garang Kuol, Nestory Irankunda, Cameron Peupion, Adrian Segicic, Clayton Taylor
Veterans: Craig Goodwin, Mathew Leckie, Martin Boyle, Awer Mabil

Short of injury or something going terribly wrong with his club career, Bos will be a part of the Socceroos squad in 2026 -- the question is if he's playing as a defender or a winger. His former Melbourne City teammate Tilio, meanwhile, has had a rough start to life at Celtic but the investment the national team setup has put into him at a senior and Olyroos level -- the attacker is almost certain to complete a World Cup, Asian Cup, Olympics treble if the under-23s qualify for the latter -- demonstrates that they are desperate to see him succeed.

Beyond that, it's uncertain. Goodwin and Leckie, right now, are probably Australia's best options on the wings but will be 34 and 35 by the time the next World Cup rolls around. Boyle, for his part, will only be 32, but carries a significant injury question mark.

Silvera has been a regular part of Socceroos squads over the past year and seems to be settling into Europe, boding well for the next cycle. Arzani, meanwhile, has had a strong campaign with Melbourne Victory and should be receiving serious consideration for coming World Cup qualifiers; if he can kick on from there he brings an ability to beat a defender off a step that the Socceroos could desperately use.

Kuol and Irankunda are obvious game-changers. Both possess the potential that if properly honed would be an asset to most national teams, not just Australia, but the next few years are vital. On the books of Newcastle United and Bayern Munich, the pair need to find a path to regular minutes at clubland and go on a well-structured journey through the national team setup -- the Olympics loom large for both -- as they mature and develop into senior internationals.

Velupillay has been on the radar of Socceroos staff in the past while Peupion, Segicic, and Taylor are clearly not ready yet, but could one day prove major assets.


Best odds for 2026: Tumbleweed
Prime years: Kusini Yengi, Nick D'Agostino, Apostolos Stamatelopoulos, John Iredale
Players looking to rise: Mohamed TourΓ©, Noah Botic, Thomas Waddingham, Max Caputo, Luka Jovanovic, Tete Yengi, Al Hassan TourΓ©, Daniel Bennie
Veterans: Mitchell Duke, Adam Taggart, Jamie Maclaren, Brandon Borrello, Jason Cummings, Bruno Fornaroli

It's telling that the only role that Australia doesn't have an odds-on candidate for 2026 is the striker position. It has been the Socceroos' problem place for decades, arguably since their inception.

Duke is Arnold's clear preference but will be 35 in 2026 and has an all-action style that could prove susceptible to injury or aging. Taggart's form at Perth Glory has been fantastic this season and he should be called up for next month's Lebanon games, potentially giving him a chance to nail down a place for a while. On the way back from injury, Borrello will be 31 midway through the World Cup and with his future secure at Western Sydney has a platform to build on, contrasting with Maclaren, out of contract at Melbourne City, and Cummings, playing in India in a league that won't get him into the squad.

Kusini Yengi, meanwhile appeared as the possible heir apparent over the past few months after a strong start to life in Europe, while Iredale was brought to the Asian Cup and earned praise for his work on the training track even if he didn't see the field. D'Agostino has been in the Socceroos setup before and will be looking to bounce back from injury and a slow start at Viking. Stamatelopoulos is the in-form striker in the A-League Men right now, undoubtedly hoping this is his breakout moment.

Of the rising generation? A bunch are coming through but there's no position in football that's more of a crapshoot than the No. 9 role. Capped already, Mohamed TourΓ© probably shapes as having the best odds for 2026. At two meters tall and scoring goals in Scotland with Livingston, Tete Yengi is a genuine bolter.