By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Melbourne City teenager Daniel Arzani has shown a knack for dancing past defenders in the Australian top flight but his most telling off-field evasion might be sidestepping the country of his birth for the lure of a World Cup ticket with the Socceroos.
The Iran-born 19-year-old spent his early childhood playing in the streets of Khorramabad and remains eligible for the Middle Eastern heavyweights, who have also qualified for the Russia finals.
But Arzani has represented Australia at junior levels since migrating Down Under with his family and the winger all but pledged allegiance to his adopted nation in February.
His loyalty may be set for the ultimate reward, a berth in Australia’s World Cup squad, if he impresses during a three-week training camp in Turkey.
“It’d be a dream come true,” said uncapped Arzani, one of the biggest surprises in Dutchman Bert van Marwijk’s preliminary squad.
“Since I was young, I’ve always dreamed of playing for Australia, playing for the Socceroos. To think that that could be happening in the next couple of weeks is amazing.”
The youngest Socceroo at the Antalya camp, Arzani survived Van Marwijk’s first cut down to 26 and is very much in the mix for the final 23.
Australia do not lack for skilled or diligent players across the field but are crying out for a bright spark to help conjure goals for a side that still finds a place for 38-year-old veteran Tim Cahill.
Arzani may be half the age of Australia’s World Cup hero but he has been spoken of with a similar enthusiasm that Cahill generated in his formative years.
The teenager joined the Melbourne City setup in 2016 but was basically unused until January.
Two days after his 19th birthday, Arzani came off the bench to set up two goals and spark a 2-1 comeback win over Wellington Phoenix.
The breakthrough triggered a rich vein of form and he played a key role in pushing Warren Joyce-coached City into the playoffs before being awarded the A-League’s “Young Player of the Year”.
“We don’t have anything like him as a player,” former Australia defender Tony Vidmar, as assistant coach at City, told local media.
“He just has this belief and confidence that every time he gets the ball he can get past a player … and he’s proved that he can do it.”
Arzani missed out on Van Marwijk’s first squad named in March and the subsequent World Cup warmups against Norway and Colombia.
The snub fanned fears he might yet be swooped off by Carlos Queiroz-coached Iran but Van Marwijk said he needed a few more games to assess him.
“He is a player who can make a difference,” the Dutchman said after naming Arzani in his preliminary 32-man squad.
“I like players who can make a difference. Maybe a world championship is too early, but I will not hesitate to nominate him if he can make a difference, in maybe the last 10-15 minutes.”
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)