NEWCASTLE could have their three Olyroos representatives on deck for Saturday’s clash with Wellington at Hunter Stadium after Australia’s unexpectedly early exit from the Asian Under-23 Championship.
Australia’s tournament ended after a 3-2 defeat to South Korea in Kunshan on Wednesday and their players were expected back in Sydney by mid-morning Friday.
Newcastle’s Joey Champness, Nick Cowburn and new signing Riley McGree will not have a chance to join in the Jets’ final ball-work session but coach Ernie Merrick is keeping an open mind about including them in his squad for Saturday.
“Ernie will wait until they arrive home, talk to each of them and make a decision after that,” Jets chief executive Lawrie McKinna said.
“I would doubt that any of them would start the game, but some of them could be included on the bench.
“Everyone was expecting them to go through to the next stage, but I’m sure all the clubs will be happy to have them back.
“They’ll have been travelling back for basically a full day, if you include hanging around airports, which is not ideal.
“But it will be up to Ernie and the players to decide who’s available.”
Champness had been a regular in Newcastle’s team before flying out for China, appearing in all of their first 15 games, including 10 in the starting line-up.
Cowburn has made five appearances, all off the bench.
He scored one of Australia’s goals against South Korea, which followed his goal in a friendly against Thailand before the tournament started.
McGree, a transfer window loan signing from Club Brugge, is yet to make his debut for the Jets. The attacking midfielder played in 17 A-League games for Adelaide last season, scoring one goal.
Australia’s loss to South Korea, which followed a defeat against Vietnam and a win againsy Syruia, has dented the Olyroos’ hopes of reaching Tokyo 2020, as it will impact on their seeding for the Olympic qualifying tournament.
Meanwhile, McKinna said Argentine import Pato Rodriguez, on the receiving end of a rugged tackle from Brisbane’s Jacob Pepper last week, was hoping to play against Phoenix.
The elusive attacker is nursing a bruised ankle and will have to prove his fitness at training on Friday.
“He’s still a bit tender but he’s definitely a chance [of playing],” McKinna said.
For much of the match the Olyroos struggled to keep up with a strong, intense and relentless Korean outfit, falling 3-0 behind after 65 minutes of their final Group D clash in Kunshan on Wednesday night.
The embarrassment of that scoreline might actually have sparked them into action, with Nick Cowburn and Trent Buhagiar both scoring in the space of four minutes midway through the second half as Australia visibly upped the tempo in response.
However, they could not find an equaliser to avoid yet another group-stage failure at youth international level.
The Olyroos were largely unable to hit the defence-splitting passes they needed to bypass the resolute South Korean defence and too often retreated backwards until their sudden improvement after conceding a third goal.
In some ways it was a repeat of their 1-0 defeat to Vietnam, when the Olyroos enjoyed a whopping 75 per cent of possession but convert that dominance into goals.
South Korea made it look easy. A speculative long ball provided their first real opening, which led to their first goal in the 18th minute.
Thumped from halfway, it carried into the penalty box and with Paul Izzo electing not to come out for the ball, Han Seung-gyu latched onto it and zeroed in on goal.
Han's effort was cleared off the line by Thomas Deng, only for the rebound to come straight back to him, and his scuffed second attempt fell fortuitously to Lee Keun-ho, unmarked and in point-blank range.
Han and Lee combined again with some neat interplay to set up South Korea's second goal - a sucker-punch for Australia right on the stroke of halftime - while Lee completed his brace in the 65th minute to deliver what looked to be the final nail.
It wasn't. Australia still had plenty left to give and suddenly things started to come together in the final third.
But try as they might, they could not level the scores, with striker George Blackwood spurning two good chances to do so in the dying minutes.
After so far playing every minute of Wellington Phoenix's A-League season, midfield mainstay Goran Paracki will miss Saturday's clash away with Newcastle Jets.
The 30-year-old Croatian received his fifth yellow card of the season in Wellington's 1-1 draw with Western Sydney Wanderers last weekend and will serve out his one-match suspension against the Jets.
Phoenix coach Darije Kalezic says Paracki has been an integral part of Wellington's season, but is confident his absence can be covered.
"We have a couple of options - from my point of view, it's important the player in that position can connect between defence and the midfield to distribute the ball forward," Kalezic said.
"It's obviously a loss, but I believe the players we have can replace him successfully."
New signing Matija Ljujic, who blasted home Wellington's equaliser from 30m out against Wanderers, is one possibility to take over Paracki's role.
But Kalezic is understandably reluctant to shift him, even temporarily, from his current position.
"Matija can play there for sure, but I see him more as a player who connects the midfield and attack, and he's the one player who can deliver assists for our front players," he said.
Skipper Andrew Durante says Paracki's consistency has been crucial for Wellington.
"He's been fantastic - he's filled the role of Vinnie Lia really well, that holding midfield role.
"He's combative, a good distributor of the ball and he's got a really good work ethic."
Durante said the Phoenix are looking forward to taking on former coach Ernie Merrick's high-flying Jets, who sit second on the ladder, six points behind leaders Sydney FC and 22 clear of 10th-placed Wellington.
"Ernie's got them playing some really good football - we know the style really well.
"It's midfielders facing forward, getting balls in behind, and it's the front three making those runs in behind. It's a really attacking mindset."
The two teams last met in early November, with the Jets running out 3-0 winners.
This time, Durante says, the Phoenix are better prepared.
"I think we played into their hands last time, playing too short around our own half, around our own box.
"We gifted them a couple of goals, but we'll learn from that and play a bit of a different style."