Milos Degenek of the Columbus Crew is one of 36 MLS players headed to the World Cup as he will represent Australia as the competition begins next week. Australia qualified for the World Cup by beating Peru on penalties in a playoff, and will now head into Group D where they are joined by France, Denmark, and Tunisia.
After finishing up his debut season with the Crew, in which he started 28 matches, Degenek will now get a chance to represent Australia at the World Cup. The 28-year old joined Columbus prior to last season after a stop in the Serbian Super League. Degenek completed 84.4% of his passes for the Crew and helped the backline, and now he'll head to Qatar for the world's biggest competition.
Degenek is actually one of the more experienced players in the Australia squad, his 38 caps ranking seventh most out of the 26 players on the roster. Degenek was previously named to the 2018 World Cup squad for Australia, but he did not make an appearance in that tournament. So, if Degenek makes an appearance this time around then it will be his World Cup debut.
It will be very interesting to see who Australia rolls out in their starting center-back pairing in this tournament, and whether Degenek will be one of the ones to get the nod. He will be competing with the likes of Kye Rowles (of Hearts in the Scottish Premiership), Harry Souttar (Stoke City/English Championship), and Bailey Wright (Sunderland/English Championship) to be one of the two starting CBs. Souttar and Rowles both recently returned from injuries (with Souttar's being a more serious injury, as he just returned in recent weeks from a torn ACL).
Those injuries could mean that Degenek could get a starting nod in the tournament if there are questions about either player's match fitness. It could also mean that Degenek could get minutes even if he does not start if neither player is full-90 minutes fit (although that is less of a concern at the center-back position). Now I'll preview Australia's three group stage matches, and what they could mean for Degenek and Australia.
Tuesday, Nov. 22nd vs France
Degenek and Australia will open up the tournament with the defending World Cup champions, and once again one of the prohibitive favorites in this year's edition, in France. Degenek and the Australia defense will be tasked with stopping the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, and Aurelien Tchouameni in the French outfit. Safe to say that Australia will have their work cut out for them in their opener, and they will be heavy underdogs in this matchup.
Saturday, Nov. 26th vs Tunisia
Tunisia comes into the tournament looking to advance to the knockout stage for the first time (Australia is looking to do it for the second time). They have a strong midfield consisting of several European-based club players, such as Aissa Laidouni (Ferencvaros/Hungarian 1st division), Ellyes Skhiri (FC Koln/Bundesliga), and Anis Ben Slimane (Brondby/Danish Superliga). Tunisia is also led up top by Wahbi Khazri (Montpellier/Ligue 1)m who is Tunisia's 2nd all-time leading scorer.
If Australia wants to advance to the knockout stage then this might be called a must-win match. They will likely at least need a result in this match (although a draw would put a ton of pressure on their final group stage match and could mean they would need help or a tiebreaker to get through).
Wednesday, Nov. 30th vs Denmark
This will likely be the most important match of the group for Australia. If they want to make it out of the group, then they will at least need to get a point out of this match. While anything can happen in the World Cup, many people will tell you that this might be the a battle for second place in the group. Whether that is the case or not, there very well could be a spot in the knockout round on the line in this match. Denmark is led by Christian Eriksen (Manchester United/Premier League) and Simon Kjaer (AC Milan/Serie A).
Looking forward, if Australia advances to the knockout round, they will be matched up with either the first or second place finisher from Group C. Group C consists of Argentina, Mexico, Poland, and Saudi Arabia. If Australia wins Group D, then they will take on the runner-up of Group C in the round of 16. If Australia finishes second, then they will take on the winner of Group C.
While we don't know the exact role that Degenek will play for Australia in the World Cup, what we do know is that if he does play then Australia will need him to play well if they are going to want to have success in the tournament.