Graham Arnold’s job was on the line after a rollercoaster qualifying campaign and THAT Covid protocol-breaching walk… but after dragging the Socceroos to the World Cup, the Aussie battler has NOTHING to lose in Qatar
- Australia qualified for the World Cup after beating Peru in a dramatic play-off
- Socceroos finished third in their group after losing to Japan and Saudi Arabia
- Arnold was under pressure as Australia missed out on automatic qualification
- He successfully took the Socceroos to their fifth straight World Cup
- Arnold believes Australia can spring a surprise in Qatar in November
- Socceroos face reigning champions France, Denmark and Tunisia in Group D
- Click here for all the latest World Cup 2022 news and updates
‘I’m not coaching for my career,’ was Graham Arnold’s blunt assessment when asked whether Australia’s performances at the World Cup would determine his future.
The 59-year-old has a point, as only the most optimistic of Socceroos fans expect them to make it out of a group containing reigning champions France, Denmark and Tunisia.
Australia’s last two World Cup appearances have yielded one point across six games and it’s been 12 years since they last celebrated a win on football’s biggest stage.
Graham Arnold will lead Australia into his first World Cup as a coach in November
More to the point, Arnold may not be coaching for his career in Qatar largely because reaching the World Cup saved his job to begin with.
Both outcomes looked like far from a foregone conclusion back in March, when Australia’s hopes of direct qualification for the World Cup evaporated following a 2-0 defeat against Japan in Sydney.
Disjointed on the field, Australia won just one of their final seven games in the third phase of the AFC qualifiers, finishing third behind Japan and Saudi Arabia in Group B.
Having comfortably topped their group with a perfect record in the previous round, the Socceroos began the third qualifying stage with three straight wins.
The 59-year-old looked on the verge of losing his job as Australia’s qualifying campaign was in danger of derailing back in March
Defeat in Tokyo against Japan and a home draw against Saudi Arabia stalled the momentum, with draws away against China and Oman further adding to the Socceroos’ woes.
Off the field, the picture was similarly gloomy. Arnold was fined $25,000 by Football Australia for breaching Covid-19 protocols as he took a walk along the beach in New South Wales, when he was meant to be isolating at home.
Arnold tested positive for coronavirus a week before the Socceroos faced Japan in Sydney, meaning he could only communicate to his players via Zoom for five days.
As things unravelled on and off the pitch, calls for Arnold to be sacked before the play-offs grew louder.
The Socceroos missed out on automatic qualification after losing at home to Japan
Australia finished third in their group after winning just one of their last seven games
However, the FA stood resolutely behind their man and gave Arnold the chance to conclude the qualifying campaign he began in 2019.
For his part, the 59-year-old brushed off suggestions he had been given a stay of execution simply because the FA deemed the two-month turnaround ahead of the playoffs would not be sufficient time to appoint a successor.
‘The reality is today we are in the same place as where we were four years ago, and other times, with playoffs,’ Arnold said in March.
‘Of course I want to be here [as Socceroos coach], or else I wouldn’t be here. The journey’s been good. The journey’s been tough.’
Ajdin Hrustic (top) scored a late winner as Australia beat the UAE 2-1 in the play-off
If circumstances played into Arnold’s hands, he made the most of the reprieve.
Australia beat the UAE 2-1 thanks to a late goal from Ajdin Hrustic to book a place in a winner-takes-all showdown against Peru.
Seventeen years on from John Aloisi’s historic penalty against Uruguay, it was Andrew Redmayne’s turn to write himself in Socceroos folklore in a shootout.
It must have felt like deja vu for Arnold, who was one of Guus Hiddink’s assistants in 2005. Not that it made the circumstances any less stressful for him.
‘It was so hard, you know the whole campaign,’ he told ABC after the win over Peru.
Andrew Redmayne was the hero as the Socceroos beat Peru in their second play-off game
Redmayne saved two penalties as Australia won the shootout to qualify for the World Cup
‘I believe this is one of the greatest achievements ever – to qualify for this World Cup the way we’ve had to go through things.’
It’s hard to disagree with Arnold.
When Australia returned to the World Cup after a 32-year absence in 2006, it did so with a group that included established Premier League and Serie A stars.
The current crop, by contrast, is heavy on A-League representation and significantly short of international pedigree at the top level.
The dynamic further complicates Arnold’s plans ahead of the World Cup, given the A-League only gets underway on October 7, just over a month before the start of the tournament.
Arnold will travel to Australia to assess the credentials of A-League players over six games before the start of the World Cup, leaving assistant coach René Meulensteen to overseen developments in Europe.
The Socceroos used 48 players during the qualifying campaign, with a further six – including new Newcastle United signing Garang Kuol – making their debut last week.
Arnold, who replaced Bert van Marwijk after the 2018 World Cup, has until November 14 to pick his 26 for the tournament and told the AAP last week that 15 players had already cemented their place in the squad.
Australia have now qualified for five consecutive World Cups after returning to football’s biggest tournament for the first time in 32 years in 2006
Arnold said reaching the 2022 World Cup was arguably one of the Socceroos’ greatest achievements given the circumstances surrounding the qualifying campaign
And while few expect the Socceroos to spring a surprise in Qatar and reach the knockout stages for the first time since 2006, the former Central Coast and Sydney FC boss is more bullish.
Australia’s squad for the win in their friendly against New Zealand included nine of the players who were part of the Olyroos’ 2-0 win over Argentina at last year’s Olympics.
‘We’ve got some good kids,’ Arnold said.
Arnold believes the Socceroos can spring a surprise in Qatar at the World Cup
‘There’s some exciting players and some exciting futures for a lot of them.’
His own future, meanwhile, remains up in the air. Arnold’s contract is due to expire after the World Cup and he has made clear he will be open to remain in the role, as long as the FA want him.
‘I’m not going to demand a contract before the World Cup,’ he said.
That would be nice, but it’s their choice. They’ve got to want me to stay.’
Garank Kuol made his debut for the Socceroos in September in a friendly against New Zealand and is one of a crop of young players Arnold expects plenty from
If Qatar is to be his last tournament in charge of the Socceroos, Arnold is determined to bow out on his terms.
‘From my side of it, if I never coach again, that’s life,’ he explained.
‘I know there will be something after this.
‘It’s a unique World Cup and a fantastic achievement to qualify. But it’s not enough for me. I want more.’
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