Arnold praises players character

Qantas Under 23 coach Graham Arnold has praised the character of his team, following their qualification for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Qantas Under 23 coach Graham Arnold has praised the character of his team, following their qualification for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Speaking during a brief stopover in Beijing on route home to Australia, Arnold said it was by no means the best performance by his team, but they deserve everything that comes their way.

“Overall the character of the team was outstanding,” Arnold said. “They-ve been to seven countries in the last 10 months that are not easy to get into or have been played in extreme conditions with its heat and this time in the freezing cold.

“They deserve everything they get by qualifying for the Olympics, but the most important thing for me overall, it gives them now 10 months of international football; it gives them a major tournament to play. The players were put into a position in the last two games against Iraq and North Korea where they have never been before; they had to play under pressure and they knew they had to get results.

“It was all new for them and it was wonderful.”

Australia was helped in the first half by some poor finishing by the home side, who only had a one-goal lead at the break for all their domination against a nervous Aussie team that looked edgy on its feet.

However the second half was much better by the Australians and they got the equaliser, again from a set piece, with Mark Milligan heading home.

“It wasn-t a great performance; it was a nervous performance for the first 20-odd minutes,” Arnold admitted. “The fact that we were snowed in - the day we arrived there was a massive downpour of snow and we couldn-t even train on the field - the boys were uneasy on their feet and unsure of their balance and that probably contributed with the nerves for the first half hour.

“The message I gave them (at half time) was, forget the first 45 minutes for that was the worst you have played in 13 games. The scoreboard says what it says, but don-t panic and I-m sure if you relax and go out and play the way that you can play, the Koreans will tire in the second half and we-ll get those opportunities.

“I have stressed on this team for two years now, about the importance of set pieces and I knew if (Kristian) Sarkies would get some good delivery in, the opportunities would come.”

Milligan-s contribution to the win could not be underestimated, after it looked like his match might be over after just 8 minutes, when he went down awkwardly and looked to have twisted his knee. He recovered and again led the team back and header home yet another vital goal for his country during this qualification tournament.

“Milligan is an inspiration; he-s a great leader,” Arnold praised. “Over the whole tournament, he-s been inspirational.

“He has learnt a hell of a lot in the last couple of years; he-s now been to a World Cup, been to an Asian Cup and you-ve seen him develop and that-s why I am so happy we qualified, for the development of these players. You-ve seen the development in Mark, so if the other players are given the opportunity, can you imagine the development of them, if they get the opportunity as well.”

So how far can this team go at next year-s Olympics? A long way if Arnold have his way and gets a good preparation.

“I will say it now, Mr Lowy, the FFA Chairman, told us he would like to get a medal; I would love to get a medal, so therefore we need at least 20-25 international friendly games before the Olympics,” he added.

“They are match-hardened now after 14 games and if we give them good preparation, I can-t see why a medal is not out of reach,” he said in a quietly confident voice. “They are a wonderfully talented group; thankfully the talented Under 20 players we have like Nathan Burns, James Troisi, Matt Spiranovic, Dario Vidosic and some others have stepped up and made the squad even stronger.

“I would just like to say and thank all the Hyundai A-League clubs for all their patience and to the coaches - I know I put them in a difficult positions with having to get the players released and play - so I am very grateful to them for showing belief in a massive tournament like the Olympics, to help us prepare as best we could.”