Proud and over the moon: Joe Gauci and Lawrence Thomas react to Asian Cup call-ups

A-Leagues shot-stopping duo Joe Gauci and Lawrence Thomas have made the squad for the Subway Socceroos’ Asian Cup Qatar 2023™ campaign, following news regarding Maty Ryan’s recovery ahead of the tournament. 

Thomas returned to the A-League Men’s in 2022, signing for Western Sydney Wanderers, where he has been the starting goalkeeper for the team. 

This year, the 31-year-old has five clean sheets from eight games in the league, and coach Graham Arnold said in his squad announcement press conference he has been the best goalkeeper in the competition since he re-joined. 

Thomas explained he has been enjoying his football a lot more since returning to Australia and credited his consequent performances for his call-up to the Asian Cuquad. 

“I’ve really enjoyed my time coming back home. I think it’s had a big part to do with my performances on the field so looking forward to getting there and getting involved,” Thomas said at a press conference on Friday.  

“There are obviously some great players in that team [the Socceroos], and I’m just looking forward to coming in, seeing them all again. Probably meeting a few for the first time and just training. 

“The goalkeeper position has always been a very strong one for Australia. It was a big decision personally for me to come back to Australia to play. 

“I think the enjoyment I’ve had coming back has correlated on the field into the solid performances for the last year and a half. 

“I’m stoked to be rewarded for the efforts in the last year and a half.” 

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 10: Lawrence Thomas of the Wanderers shows his emotion during the A-League Men round seven match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne Victory at CommBank Stadium, on December 10, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Twenty-three-year-old Gauci has been a near-fixed feature in Adelaide United coach Carl Veart’s team since he joined the club in 2020.

Gauci comes into January’s tournament having made one of the highest number of saves in the ALM competition at 37.

He said a place in the squad for Australia’s trip to Qatar is something he has been targeting.

Gauci was 15 years old when Australia won the Asian Cup in 2015, and he recalls Massimo Luongo’s opener against South Korea in the final.

He wants to recreate a similar feeling now he’s in the squad as a player eight years on in what has already been a proud moment for the young goalkeeper.

“I think it’s the biggest competition outside the World Cup that Australia can play in, so a real proud moment now to be involved and looking to create some more memories this time around,” Gauci admitted, speaking to AUFC Media. 

“I just found out [was in the squad] through a message this morning [Friday].

“It’s something that I’ve been aiming towards.

“Coming towards the end of the year, I reflect on the year, and I think at the start of the year, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be in the position that I am now, so I’m very grateful.

“For me, it was to come back to Adelaide [after the November window] and just knuckle down and focus on my performances and hopefully do well enough to get the call-up, which I’ve been able to do.”

He was in the squad for Australia’s November window, where he sat on the bench for the side’s first two World Cup qualification matches, and he said that type of prior experience will hold him in good stead for January.

“You get to know the players, know the staff and other coaches. So it’s a very familiar feeling from camp to camp. It’s easier to go in a bit more settled and probably not as nervous,” Gauci said. 

Australian captain and starting goalkeeper Mathew Ryan is facing a race to be fit for the Cup following cheekbone surgery earlier this month.

Although Graham Arnold eased fears in his earlier squad announcement, saying that he should be fit for the start of the competition.

“The information I’m getting from the medical team and Maty’s bought a beautiful mask, I do believe he will be fine,” he said.

“Maty is always someone who is completely focused and ready for those type of things and he’s heading back to Australia to have probably a week’s break. This time next week, he’ll be back in the gym working and being able to do some exercise and then by the time we get into Abu Dhabi for the pre-camp, he’ll be back doing one-on-one goalkeeper training.

“He probably won’t be ready for the friendly against Bahrain, but I imagine he could be ready for the India game.”

While it is anticipated the experienced saver will be fit for the tournament, there is a chance Gauci could get a run for the Socceroos next month if there is a setback.

However, Gauci explained that he isn’t thinking about that and is focused on doing his best to represent the country regardless of whether he’s playing or not.

“That’s not something that I’ve thought about [playing in the Cup]. My role is to go in and represent my country, whether that’s on the field or off the field. I’ll give it 100{d27fecd2aab8556c4f94c40a7029c11f3747289a19d4761b6980018407b307cc} in every training session, every game to wear the coat of arms with pride,” he said. 

“Whatever my role is with the Asian Cup, I will be giving 100{d27fecd2aab8556c4f94c40a7029c11f3747289a19d4761b6980018407b307cc}.”

Australia will take on Bahrain in a friendly in early January in preparation for the Asian Cup Qatar 2024 before playing India in their group opener a few days later. 

AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™ – Australia’s Group B Matches

Australia v India
Date: Saturday, 13 January 2024
Venue: Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Kick-off: 2:30pm local, 10:30pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Network 10 and Paramount+

Syria v Australia
Date: Thursday, 18 January 2024
Venue: Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, Doha
Kick-off: 2:30pm local, 10:30pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Network 10 and Paramount+

Australia v Uzbekistan
Date: Tuesday, 23 January 2024
Venue: Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Kick-off: 2:30pm local, 10:30pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: Network 10 and Paramount+

A PDF version of the Match Schedule can be found HERE.