HONG KONG (Reuters) – Coach Graham Arnold has said he will not force anyone to play for Australia over other nations as he revealed Gianni Stensness has yet to receive official clearance to complete his switch from New Zealand to the Socceroos.
Stensness declared last week his intention to change allegiance to Australia having represented New Zealand at the Olympic Games – a move All Whites coach Danny Hay called a “kick in the guts”.
The Australia-born 22-year-old, who was eligible to play for New Zealand through his father, was not included in Hay’s 21-man squad for October friendlies against Curacao and Bahrain and decided to represent Australia at senior level, said New Zealand Football.
Administrative delays have kept the defender out of the Australian squad for this month’s World Cup qualifiers against Oman and Japan, but Arnold revealed he had been in discussions with Stensness – a near-neighbour in Sydney – for some time.
“I spoke to him three days ago and we’re still waiting for the paperwork from FIFA for his clearance that he can play for Australia,” said Arnold.
“It’s very fortunate that he lives in the same area as me and we caught up and we’ve had those discussions about him playing for Australia and he’s chosen to play for Australia.”
Stensness could be joined in future Socceroos squads by Dinamo Zagreb’s Deni Juric, who is also being pursued by Croatia, with Arnold looking to strengthen his squad as the Australians attempt to qualify for a fifth straight World Cup.
“At the end of the day it’s his decision,” said Arnold. “Which country, which badge he puts on his heart is going to feel the right badge.
“I’d never force anyone to do something that they don’t really believe in because if I do that then they’re not going to feel comfortable in that shirt and they’re not going to give 100 percent if they’re forced into it.”
Australia have won their last 10 World Cup qualifying matches in a row and go into the meeting with Oman on Oct. 7 with six points from their opening two games in the final phase of Asia’s preliminaries for the 2022 World Cup.
Arnold’s team defeated China and Vietnam in their first two qualifiers and face an Oman side that handed Japan a shock 1-0 loss in their opening game in Osaka last month.
The Socceroos are also due to take on Japan at Saitama Stadium on Oct. 12, and Arnold has selected a 25-man squad that sees Melbourne Victory’s Chris Ikonomidis join Rhyan Grant as the only Australia-based players on the roster.
“The confidence and the belief, they’re building in the boys. They’re starting to believe they can win every game, which is fantastic and that’s what I’d expect of the boys when they come into camp,” said Arnold.
“It’s one game at a time and there’s a strong belief in what their qualities are.”
Goalkeepers: Mathew Ryan, Lawrence Thomas, Danny Vukovic
Defenders: Aziz Behich, Milos Degenek, Rhyan Grant, Trent Sainsbury, Harry Souttar, Ryan McGowan, Callum Elder, Fran Karacic
Midfielders: Jackson Irvine, Kenneth Dougall, Denis Genreau, Ajdin Hrustic, James Jeggo, Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic, Riley McGree, Daniel Arzani, Chris Ikonomidis
Forwards: Martin Boyle, Mitchell Duke, Awer Mabil, Adam Taggart.
(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by Michael Perry)