Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has opened up on the team’s preparation for the looming World Cup in Qatar, revealing one major advantage the Australians boast over many more-fancied rivals from around the world – and boldly declaring their ‘group of death’ is actually a ‘group of dreams’.
After being informed by the Australian government that the Socceroos would be unable to play most of their qualification games on home soil, Arnold immediately planned to take matches to Qatar.
In an exclusive interview with Fox Sports News, Arnold said: “straightaway in my brain, for whatever reason, that (thought) was: ‘we’ve got to play our games in Qatar’, where time difference is only two hours for most of the boys who play in Europe, travel’s only six hours. Let’s experience what we’re going to experience at the World Cup further down the track.”
Watch the first part of Arnold’s exclusive interview on the Road to Qatar in the video player below.
PART ONE: ‘I’ve had enough’: Socceroos boss was inches from giving up on brutal World Cup journey
The experience will stand the Socceroos in good stead come the finals proper, Arnold believes.
“You know, these airconditioned stadiums are incredible, they are different – because the aircon that blows across the field moistens the pitch, because of the heat and the cold, and it moistens the grass. It’s like playing on ceramic tiles, the ball moves so quickly!
“And if you look back, now that I say that, if people look back at the Peruvian (WC playoff) game, they would see how many times Peru passed the ball out. Or their first touch went further than what normally would go. Or every time they tried to play the ball in behind our defence, the ball went straight through to Maty Ryan. So there is definite benefits and experiences there that we’ve had that will be, I believe, a great advantage for us when we get there.”
A number of Socceroos have made major transfer moves in a bid for more playing time ahead of the World Cup, with Mat Ryan leaving Spain’s top flight for Denmark and Martin Boyle returning to Hibernian in Scotland, where he scored a late winner on his second debut for the club.
“They’ve all made good decisions, a number of them,” Arnold said. “Maty Ryan, for example, has left his club Real Sociedad to go across to Denmark where he’s going to play 24 games before we get to the World Cup, where last year he only played five games a whole season. Martin Boyle’s gone back to Scotland, back to Hibs, and you know, so all these boys are getting match minutes which are crucially important.”
But he left the door wide open for players to break into the Socceroos squad to travel to Qatar.
“It’s not about signing contracts with the national team. It’s about performance and form. And you know, the message I drove straight after the Peru game to the players was no one signed a contract. No one’s got any guarantees, you have to get back to your clubs.
“There’s one thing that I can’t control, and that’s the physical aspect of every player because they’re at their clubs. You’ve got to get back to your club, you’ve got to work extremely hard. You’ve got to be the fittest you’ve ever been because these games are every three days, you know, so you have to be the fittest you’ve ever been to recover. And you’ve got to be in the form in your life.”
Much was made of midfield maestro Tom Rogic’s decision to withdraw from the crucial World Cup playoff against Peru for personal reasons.
Arnold said: “It was something that happened very quickly. But look, Tommy’s you know, he’s a very private person. And we had the conversation of him pulling out for personal issues. I don’t need to know what they are. He didn’t want to delve in that which is his right and priority
“But he’s like every other player, you know, he has to play. It’s not like he’s signed something to say that he’s coming. He’s got to play – and he’s got to get a club and he’s got to be performing well, and so we’re just waiting to see where that lands.”
Arnold revealed he hasn’t heard from the player, who remains without a club since leaving Celtic in June.
“No. And I haven’t tried to reach out for the last couple of months. At the initial time when he pulled out I had a concern, because it was for personal reasons – and you know, again, Tommy has the right whether to say yes or no or tell me what they are, and he didn’t want to delve in that, which is – everyone has those rights.
“Initially, I was concerned about him, but I have seen photos of him out and about and he looks healthy, looks well. And, as I said, he’s the type of person that likes to be left alone, and I’ve left him alone.”
For now, Arnie’s attention is firmly focused on what is to come in Qatar – and a rematch against 2018 World Cup group stage rivals France and Denmark.
Those two teams faced off in June in Europe’s Nations League competition, and will meet again in September before the World Cup begins in November.
Arnold said that offers the Socceroos valuable scouting opportunities ahead of the World Cup, where Australia will also face Tunisia in the group round.
“Rene Meulensteen, my assistant coach is going to stay in Europe. He’s gonna go and scout and watch those games, and we’re getting all the information we can on Tunisia. Thankfully, we can see them play the first game (at the World Cup) and again, another benefit for us as coaches is that in Qatar, because the stadiums are so close together, we can actually go and watch teams play before we play them.
“You know, people call it a group of death. When you get to World Cup, every group is tough. But for me, it’s a group of dreams. It’s a dream to be able to play against the French who just won the World Cup in 2018. You know, the team that’s always backed up to try and defend their titles always have never done it and suffered.”