Almanac Soccer: Arnie and Australia off to the World Cup

 

 

After a dire 120 minutes of nervous football it all came down to penalties in Doha. Then we had a replay of what happened in 2005 at Stadium Australia, when Graham Arnold’s senior coach, Guus Hiddink, was saved by his goalkeeper. On that occasion, Hiddink planned to replace Mark Schwarzer who had been outstanding for the Socceroos, with Zeljko Kalac, believing that the latter would be better at saving penalties or intimidating the Uruguayan kickers. But after Brett Emerton limped off with cramp just before the end of extra-time and was replaced by Josip Skoko, ‘Lucky Guus’ had no more substitutes allowed. Schwarzer crucially saved two Uruguayan penalties, allowing John Aloisi to claim the glory with the decisive penalty.

 

This time Arnie was able to replace Matt Ryan with ‘Jelly Legs’ Andrew Redmayne, the Sydney FC custodian, whose routine and athleticism enabled him to outfox two of the Peruvian penalty kickers. That was enough to outweigh Martin Boyle’s miss when his shot came back off the post. Arnie will now go down in history as the first Australian-born coach to ply his trade at the final tournament. Ange Postecoglou qualified the Socceroos in 2015 but having concluded his contract decided to end his involvement with them. He felt then that Football Federation Australia’s ambition did not match his own and he set off to make his own history in Japan and now in Scotland with Celtic.

 

We already know the composition of Australia’s Group in Qatar in November. First game is against World Champions France, followed by matches against Denmark and Tunisia. No easy ones there, but this group of Socceroos will not be intimidated by that. With luck one of Australia’s talismen, Harry Soutar will be available by then as he recovers from an ACL replacement. He was in the picture on the sidelines in Doha, supporting the team. We still need a regular goalscorer in the national team, because chances are few and must not be wasted. Matt Leckie, Jamie McLaren, Mitch Duke, Nick D’Agostino and Marco Tillio have all been tried and are capable of scoring, but most of the goals in recent times have come from midfielders, including Jackson Irvine and Ajdin Hrustic, and wingers like Boyle and Awar Mabil.

 

Australia’s recent time spent in the Middle East will be a significant advantage. The players and staff are fully acclimatised and comfortable in performing in indoor air-cooled arenas. They have been through long periods of COVID-affected lockdowns and spells without their families. They are battle hardened and I will be very surprised if they are surprised by anything they face in November. Getting France first up is a bonus. Australia only lost by a single goal to them in Russia in 2018. They will be beatable this time and such a result would send shockwaves through the group. Denmark may well have a strong and cohesive team, with Christian Ericksen, who collapsed with a heart problem, returning to club and international football since then. Tunisia will be highly athletic and unpredictable judging by their performances in African qualifying. I think this will be Australia’s best chance of getting out of its group since 2006.

 

Meantime we are assured of the world game coming to Australia next year when, along with New Zealand, we will be hosting the Women’s World Cup. We have a celebratory game for the Socceroos marking the centenary of games with New Zealand, the first of which was played in 1922 in Auckland.

 

The future is bright. The men’s Under-23 Olyroos are currently in the quarter-finals of their Asian competition in Uzbekistan. The Matildas’ coach is embarking on a plan to bring in a new group of aspiring youngsters to the senior team for upcoming camps and matches. The World Game will be Australia’s game for the next year, and that opportunity must not be wasted.

 

 

You can read more from Roy Hay Here.

 

 

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