If Mat Ryan’s cheekbone keeps him out of the Asian Cup, it’s gotta be Gauci in goal

The breaking news that Socceroo captain Mat Ryan is set to miss multiple weeks after fracturing his jaw during training at his Dutch club AZ Alkmaar has sent a shiver down the spine of many an Australian supporter.

Hopeful of another piece of confederation silverware and off the back of a Graham Arnold led squad that did the nation proud at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, fans had already locked Ryan into their predicted squads, with the 31-year-old being arguably the first male chosen in any national eleven that runs onto a football pitch.

Ryan has rarely let the Socceroos down and after 86 caps and the privilege of the captain’s armband wrapped around his bicep since late 2019, his legacy will be considerable when all is said and done.

Australian goalkeeper Mat Ryan celebrates victory with AZ Alkmaar.
(Photo by ANP via Getty Images)

As the most capped Australian goalkeeper of all time and a decent chance to surpass Lucas Neill as the man to have led the Socceroos onto the pitch on more occasions that any other, the Sydney-born keeper has improved with age and continues to do so at his new club.

Having played every minute in Alkmaar’s current campaign across all competitions as the team sits third in the league and presses for European Champions League qualification, Ryan has been crucial to its success with 10 clean sheets kept thus far and is seemingly in the form of his life.

At 31, the best may well be yet to come for the Socceroo leader. But the setback of a fractured bone in his face and subsequent surgery was the last thing Ryan or the Socceroos needed just four weeks out from the Asian Cup in Qatar.

Australian fans would much rather be discussing whether the manager should include the white hot Bruno Fornaroli as a member of the seriously talented squad that should make its presence felt in the tournament, instead of lamenting their captain as he lies wounded and busted, hopeful of a brisk recovery.

Apparently there are such things as quick healers, and Ryan will certainly be feeling pretty good about his potential role in the tournament in a month’s time. However, the final decision will be made well before that and selecting a man simply not ready and/or unable to compete from the opening fixture against India on January 13 is far from desirable.

Andrew Redmayne and Mathew Ryan. (Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images)

As such, Arnold’s decisions around the three goal keepers he does ultimately take to Qatar will need to include a contingency approach if Ryan is simply not ready to compete with a cheekbone that could be easy re-damaged with another purposeful blow to the face.

Central Coast Danny Vukovic and Sydney FC’s Andrew Redmayne were the two men taken to Qatar as backups for Ryan, with the former the most likely to have received playing minutes and the latter included as an x-factor penalty shoot-out option that worked a treat for Arnold in the final stage of qualifying.

Vukovic has now retired from international football and frankly, Redmayne has been poor, nervy and hesitant this A-League season. Yet Arnold’s loyalty is never failing and the grey wiggle could once again receive a questionable callup for a tournament in which he could only enter as the third string option between the sticks.

If Arnold is serious about taking the next best to cover Ryan, Adelaide United’s Joe Gauci must surely be the man chosen to start against India.

Adelaide United goalkeeper Joe Gauci celebrates with Nestory Irankunda. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

The 23-year-old looks a long term member of the Socceroo squad and whilst still learning his craft and deserves first shot at the custodian role should Ryan be unavailable.

Next cab off the rank should be Lawrence Thomas, another man with a lone Socceroo cap to his name, a key reason the Western Sydney Wanderers have conceded just eight times in seven matches during the current A-League campaign.

There will be plenty of sentiment around Redmayne, yet without Ryan, Arnold will need options and the ability to be agile with selection up against the best Asia has to offer, should Australia advance to the knock-out phase of the tournament.

Ryan, Gauci and Thomas looks a brilliant goalkeeping trio if the captain is fit. If not, Melbourne Victory’s Paul Izzo is certainly in the frame to replace him and Arnold is unlikely to recall Middlesbrough’s Tom Glover, who is simply not playing regularly enough to push for selection.

Please get well Mat, heal quickly and then lead the Socceroos into an Asian Cup we must surely enter as one of the favourites.

However, if you miss out thanks to an untimely injury, never fear, the keepers in waiting have plenty to offer and will do us proud in Qatar.

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