FORMER Socceroos defender Alex Wilkinson predicts Australia’s national team will put on strong performances as the squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup is finalised with friendlies against the Czech Republic and Hungary.
The Socceroos – in an intensive ‘pre-camp’ in Antalya, Turkey – face the Czech Republic this Friday (June 1) at the NV Arena in Sankt Polten, Austria before lining up against Hungary on June 10 at the Groupama Arena in Budapest.
Wilkinson, who featured in the Socceroos’ 2014 World Cup campaign in Brazil, believes the Aussies will have benefited from the pre-camp under new coach Bert Van Marwijk.
“The players will have relished the opportunity to adapt and become familiarised with Bert’s style of coaching and to work on combinations,” Wilkinson said.
“Pre-camps are very much intense and challenging and brings out the best in each player.
“The Turkish pre-camp is the ideal environment for the Socceroos squad preparations, where the facilities and climate are second to none.
“The heat is on as Bert and the selectors attempt to finalise their 23-man squad which means three players will miss the World Cup tournament in Russia.”
Wilkinson revealed he had been in contact with some of the Socceroos in Turkey who spoke positively of the Cup preparations.
“The international friendlies against the Czech Republic and Hungary will go a long way to sorting out our top squad for the tough opening round clash against France,” said Wilkinson.
“Bert would already have a fair idea of his team to play the French but the friendlies will give some of those fringe players an opportunity to impress.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed for my Sydney FC team mate Josh Brillante, who is one of several midfielders vying for a spot in the squad of 23.
“There is a great deal of talent in the squad but four players are going to be very disappointed.”
Snubbed striker Jamie Maclaren has been handed a shock Socceroos recall following injury concerns over striker Tomi Juric.
Maclaren has been in sizzling form since joining Scottish side Hibernian on loan in January and was initially been cut from the extended 26-man Socceroos squad to widespread outcry.
He joined the squad at pre-camp in Turkey on Sunday, increasing the number of squad members to 27.
The Socceroos have until June 4 to nominate their 23-man squad for the tournament in Russia.