Sydney (AFP) – Depleted Australia called up veteran Uruguay-born striker Bruno Fornaroli on Thursday to potentially make a shock debut in their crunch World Cup qualifier against Japan — provided his paperwork is done in time.

The 34-year-old was named in a 27-man Socceroos squad for their home clash against the four-time Asian champions in Sydney on March 24 and a showdown with Saudi Arabia in Jeddah five days later.

But in a blow for coach Graham Arnold, star playmaker Aaron Mooy was omitted after he  reportedly tested positive for Covid-19, with a string of attacking players also absent with injuries.

Australia need to win both matches to ensure automatic qualification for the World Cup in Qatar later this year, while in-form Japan will book their place if they beat the Socceroos.

The Australians are three points adrift of Japan, with first-placed Saudi Arabia a further point ahead.

Regardless of the results, Australia are guaranteed to finish at least third in Asian Group B and move to a play-off against the third-placed team in Asian Group A.

“This window represents a great opportunity for our players and staff to do something truly special for Australian football,” said Arnold.

“We will be focusing all our energies on producing two great performances against Japan and Saudi Arabia and lifting the Socceroos to the World Cup.”

Perth Glory ace Fornaroli represented Uruguay at under-17 level but was recently granted Australian citizenship, with his paperwork submitted to FIFA requesting he switch his allegiance from Uruguay to Australia.

Arnold said he was anticipating it will be approved before the Japan match.

“Over the last number of years Bruno has been a star of the A-League and has a great reputation of having a fighting and winning mentality,” Arnold said.

“He’s a great character and it’s great to have him in the extended squad.”

Australia squad: Nathaniel Atkinson (Hearts/SCO), Aziz Behich (Giresunspor/TUR), Martin Boyle (Al-Faisaly/KSA), Nick D’Agostino (Melbourne Victory), Milos Degenek (Columbus Crew/USA), Mitchell Duke (Fagiano Okayama/JPN), Bruno Fornaroli (Perth Glory), Denis Genreau (Toulouse/FRA), Craig Goodwin (Adelaide United), Rhyan Grant (Sydney FC), Ajdin Hrustic (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER), Jackson Irvine (St. Pauli/GER), James Jeggo (KAS Eupen/BEL), Fran Karacic (Brescia/ITA), Joel King (Odense Boldklub/DEN), Mathew Leckie (Melbourne City), Awer Mabil (Kasimpasa SK/TUR), Jamie Maclaren (Melbourne City), Connor Metcalfe (Sydney FC), Andrew Redmayne (Sydney FC), Tom Rogic (Celtic/SCO), Kye Rowles (Central Coast Mariners), Mat Ryan (Real Sociedad/ESP), Trent Sainsbury (KV Kortrijk/BEL), Gianni Stemsness (Viking FK/DEN), Marco Tilio (Melbourne City), Danny Vukovic (NEC Nijmegen/NED)