Socceroos midfielder Chris Ikonomidis has set his sights on adding an extra dimension to Graham Arnold’s attacking game plan at AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.
The 23-year-old from Cronulla was one of 13 players to take part in the Socceroos’ first training session in the United Arab Emirates, along with another shire footballer, Alex Gersbach, as preparations for Australia’s AFC Asian Cup defence continue.
The six-time Socceroo has been in red-hot form in the Hyundai A-League, scoring six goals in just nine matches for the table-topping Perth Glory.
And Ikonomidis is confident he can replicate that sort of form in the green and gold in the UAE after a meticulous 2018 designed to get him to the showpiece tournament.
“It [selection] was something that I have been working towards for months now, it’s something that I have planned.
“It’s always been a little goal in the back of my mind every day when I was doing the little things, preparing for training, preparing my diet… to get that good news and that reward from hard work is fantastic.”
Ikonomidis, added that getting a call-up to Arnold’s squad for the tournament felt “fantastic” and that he is eager to get going.
“I can’t wait to get on the pitch … and start working," he added.
“The biggest joys you get in your career, I believe, are with the national team.”
Australia will play Oman, coached by former Socceroos mentor Pim Verbeek, in an international friendly at Dubai’s Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium on Sunday, December 30.
Socceroos head coach Graham Arnold said with limited days to prepare for the Asian Cup, the match against Oman represents an opportunity to refresh principles worked on during training camps in September, October, and November.
“Importantly, the game against Oman will serve as a great chance to provide players that haven’t played as regularly with their clubs match minutes against a strong west Asian nation.
“It will also be nice to see Pim [Verbeek] again. We shared many great memories with the Socceroos and he has done a fantastic job with Oman. We are expecting a tough match but also a game played in a great spirit as both nations prepare for the tournament proper.”
Austria-based midfielder James Jeggo has replaced the injured Aaron Mooy in the Socceroos squad for the Asian Cup.
Jeggo, 26, has been playing regularly in the Austrian Bundesliga for his club FK Austria Wien this season and will add a defensive option to Graham Arnold’s midfield mix for the tournament.
Arnold said: “James has been performing really well in Austria and is a fantastic character, so we are very happy to have him join the squad. Initially James was very unlucky to miss out on the squad, but sometimes these things happen in football and we are glad we can provide him with this opportunity. James has thrived at club level playing in a defensive midfield role and with three attacking central midfielders already in the squad, we felt we needed someone with James’ attributes to provide some depth in that area.”
The decision for Mooy to remain in the United Kingdom followed consultation with Huddersfield Town’s medical staff, an independent specialist, and FFA’s High Performance Coordinator – Senior Physiotherapist, Phil Coles, over the weekend.
“It is disappointing to lose Aaron for the tournament however it was important that we left no stone unturned in exploring every option to get Aaron on the pitch for Australia in the UAE,” Arnold said. “We will remain in close contact with Aaron and Huddersfield Town during his rehabilitation and trust that he will make a successful return to action.
“In making the assessment on the injury we agreed Aaron would need at least another month to return to fitness. In a best-case scenario, this would mean he would not be ready to play until after the quarter-final stage [24-25 January 2019]. With so many games in such a short period we felt it would be best to bring in a player that is fully fit and ready to go from the outset.”
Meanwhile, Hertha BSC midfielder Mathew Leckie will join Socceroos camp in the United Arab Emirates over the coming days. Leckie, who sustained an injury in the German Bundesliga at the weekend, will be assessed in person by Australia’s medical team in the UAE. Having reviewed his initial assessment in Germany, there is confidence that Leckie will be able to play for the Socceroos at the tournament.
The Oman game will be broadcast live in Australia on FOX SPORTS and Network TEN from 11pm.