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Arnold eyeing Ibini for shock Socceroos return


Nearly six years after last pulling on a Socceroos shirt, Western Sydney Wanderers winger Bernie Ibini is in contention for a surprise recall for the looming FIFA World Cup qualification hub in Kuwait.

Coach Graham Arnold plans to select a jumbo-sized 34-man squad for the final four Group B games against Nepal, the hosts, Jordan and Taiwan in a mini-tournament format running from May 31 to June 15.

And Ibini, 28, has emerged on the rails with a late run as Arnold digs deep to cover all eventualities.

With three assists and a goal in his 12 appearances for the Wanderers so far this season, Ibini is incrementally building up a head of steam.

And the renewed national team interest is likely to provide further impetus for the attacking weapon described as “unplayable on his day” by Rangers great Kenny Miller, who rides shotgun to Wanderers coach Carl Robinson.

“Bernie’s one of those players, with his physical attributes, who can tear up teams,” he said.

“That’s why we brought him here. If you look at what he can bring, when he’s on his ‘A’ game there won’t be many better in the A-League.

“On his day, he can be unplayable. He ticks all the boxes to be a top player.

“He’s 6ft 4ins, he’s quick, powerful, he can score, he can assist. And at the other (end) he defends set-plays really well because of his stature.”

Much has changed for Ibini since picking up the first of his two caps against the UAE back in 2014.

But Ibini has never given up on the possibility of a recall during an odyssey which has taken him to China (Shanghai SIPG), Belgium (Club Brugge), Canada (Vancouver Whitecaps), the UAE (Emirates Club) and South Korea (Jeonbuk Motors).

There was even an aborted move to Iran, before Ibini was signed for the second time by Carl Robinson for the Newcastle Jets after their previous collaboration in Canada.

And twice became three times when the Welshman brought Ibini to Wanderland, not far from where it all began for him in Sydney’s western suburbs.

“He’s been a great signing for us and if any international recognition were to come again for him it would be well earned,” Miller added.

“It would show he made the right calls in coming to work for a manager who believes in him and will get the best out of him.

“Any time anybody gets a call-up for the national team it’s a proud moment and it would be a big lift for Bernie (if it were to come).”

Still honing his fitness and sharpness in the heat of combat, Miller believes Ibini’s full repertoire will emerge in the coming weeks.

“And that’s a good thing for us,” he added. “He’s already doing pretty well and there are a lot of positive signs.

“He was probably chasing a bit of fitness and it took him a little bit of time to get up to speed last year (with the Jets).

“But when everyone is on a level playing field, he tore teams apart.

“We’ve seen flashes (this season). He’s bolting towards that sort of form again, and will just keep getting better.

“If that gets recognised by the national team, it will be the reward for a lot of hard work.

“A big reward for the big man.”

Arnold is looking for reinforcements up front amid concerns over whether Adam Taggart will be up to speed by June.

The striker remains in Perth - four games into the J1 League season - still awaiting clearance from Japanese authorities to enter the country and join his new teammates at Cerezo Osaka.