All 11 starting spots up for grabs

Qantas Under 23’s coach Graham Arnold has said all 11 starting spots are still up for grabs for Australia’s first game at the Olympics Games against Serbia in Shanghai and the players will have to earn it over the next month as the final squad begins its final preparations.

Qantas Under 23-s coach Graham Arnold has said all 11 starting spots are still up for grabs for Australia-s first game at the Olympics Games against Serbia in Shanghai and the players will have to earn it over the next month as the final squad begins its final preparations.

Twenty players, including four standby players, went into camp today in Sydney, to prepare for the teams final Australian hit out against New Zealand before going on a three and a half week trip around Asia to prepare for the finals that start on August 7.

Three players, David Carney, Adam Federici and Neil Kilkenny, have been excused from this short camp and will join the squad in Beijing on July 17.

Arnold though left those at the press conference in North Sydney in no doubt that no player has an automatic right to a starting spot and the players get their first chance to impress with Saturday-s match against New Zealand at North Sydney Oval.

“Nowhere near it,” he said, when asked if he had a preferred starting eleven at this stage. And when asked for how many places up still up for grabs, he said “Eleven.”

He wasn-t even ready to say his three over age players are guaranteed starting spots, but he did concede that in most cases you would build the team around these three, in his case Carney, Newcastle Jets Jade North and Melbourne Victory-s Archie Thompson.

“Not necessarily,” he quipped on his three over age players getting automatic spots. “You hope they are fit enough to play and in good form, but yes, normally the three over age players will play and you build the squad around them because they bring in the experience.

“The rest of the positions are up for grabs; you-ve pretty much got two players for each position. I have tried to pick a squad that is adaptable to different formations.”

Arnold was comfortable with where he and the squad are at and stated that today marked the beginning of the second half of the campaign, following last week-s squad announcement.

“This is pretty much the start of the second part of the campaign; the first part was qualifying and the second part was selecting the squad and moving forward,” he said.

“We have three players absent at the moment; David Carney had to go back to Sheffield United to meet his new manager; Adam Federici will be released for the China game in China and Neil Kilkenny also went back to Leeds to do week to 10 days pre-season with them.

“Other than that everyone else is in, as well as the four standby players that will be traveling the whole way through with us to Beijing in case of any late injuries.”

Saturday-s match, which is the second match of a double header featuring the Matildas also against New Zealand, will see them match up against another Olympic opponent, a good test before leaving the country.

“This weekend is more about getting a run in the legs of the boys. There fitness levels have improved out of sight, but it-s not match fitness,” he said.

“A lot of these players have not played a real competitive game since the end of the A-League; they were rotated or played some games in Malaysia, but its not week in, week out. They had four games in a quick space of time but it-s not the same as weekly games.

“So New Zealand on Saturday will be just a good hit out for us to get the legs going again.”

With the many in the squad being involved in several long camps recently, Arnold admits one of the toughest challenges will be to keep the players mentally alert throughout the preparation.

“We-ve only got four days here, but one of the hardest things to do is juggle how much time you are in camp. We-ve had Terrigal, then Darwin and they have pretty much been in camp six weeks out the last nine; they-re fitness levels are great and I am very happy with that.

“They also need some downtime, to mentally freshen up, because mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness. We play the New Zealand game and then they go home to say farewell to their families. Then we are away on the 17th where we will spend the next three and a half weeks in Asia before the Olympics; in the surroundings; in the climate and play a few games.”

In responding to questions regarding the selection of the Qantas Under 23s squad, the Head of Corporate and Public Affairs, Bonita Mersiades, said that the squad is not a developmental squad but is one that is selected on the basis that Australia hopes to win a medal.

"While the final selection is well and truly Graham's call, he has nonetheless consulted with the Head Coach, Pim Verbeek, the National Technical Director, Robert Baan, and has been through the relevant approval process within FFA.

"There should be no doubt that he has done this in full consultation with those with whom he is required to consult."

Match Details

Qantas Under 23-s vs New Zealand Under 23-s (Men-s) Matildas vs New Zealand (Women-s) Saturday 12 July 2008 North Sydney Oval Kick Off 2pm (Men-s) 12pm (Women-s) Gates Open 11.45am

Ticket Prices General Admission - Grandstand and Hill Area. - $15.00 Adult - $8.00 Concession/Child * - $30.00 Family (2 Adults + 2 Children)

Where do we purchase tickets? Phone - Ticketek on 132 849 All Ticketek Agencies Web sales -

At North Sydney Oval on Match Day: - Please note that this is subject to ticket availability

*Concession includes - Pensioner - Aged, TPI (valid ID cards) including seniors cards. Student - Full time secondary and tertiary students (valid ID required) Child - Children 4 - 16 years inclusive (children 3 years and under will be admitted free but no seat provided) - Transaction fees may apply