Creating depth is the name of the game for the Caltex Socceroos and facing an almost full-strength Korea Republic is just the trial head coach Graham Arnold had in mind.
A much-changed Caltex Socceroos roster goes up against the Taegeuk Warriors on Friday 7 June in Busan, with head coach Paulo Bento naming the likes of national team captain and Tottenham Hosptur star Son Heung-min among an array of experienced international talent.
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Arnold’s focus is to develop a core group of players who can challenge for a first team starting berth, although he is calling upon the likes of regulars Aziz Behich - who asked to be selected following a season of limited game time - and Rhyan Grant, who featured prominently in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup campaign.
There are six uncapped players in the Caltex Socceroos camp and only five who have hit double figures in international appearances, but Arnold wants nothing more than his switched-up squad to be tested against the best Asia has to offer.
“That’s exactly what I had in mind,” Arnold said. “To play against top opposition is the best test you can have.
“If you played against a weaker nation, you don’t get to see everything [your players] have in then.
“This game will bring the maximum out of every player and it will create a lot more depth in the squad.
“It’s going to be a great challenge and one the players and myself are extremely looking forward to.”
Land of opportunity
Arnold's charges have trained twice, in addition to a recovery session, since their arrival in Korea Republic.
That has meant a short time to acclimatise and get to know each other, but Arnold praised the sharpness and fitness level of his 24 players and urged them to seize their chance to prove themselves at this level.
“I spoke to them the first day about opportunities, they don’t come that often,” he said.
“In the past year, we’ve had a very settled squad of players but this is an opportunity for all of these players that have done very well in club land, to come into this camp with a great desire and energy to impress.
“To be a great Socceroo team in history, we need depth. And to create a healthy environment, we need players pushing each other for positions and to make my job extremely tough to pick 23 players.”
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An eye on the FIFA World Cup
Friday against Korea Republic may be the next challenge but playing the long game is also on Arnold’s mind. With the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers kicking off this September, Arnold is determined to raise the bar of his starting XI and the rest of his squad.
“We don’t want to rely on the same 14, 15 players over the next four years, which we pretty much have done for the last number of years,” said Arnold.
“To have a healthy competitive environment is critical to me.”