‘Five kids will be Caltex Socceroos by end of 2020’: Opportunity knocking for Arnold’s U-23 squad

Continental glory is the initial focus but Graham Arnold has no doubt a host of his Australian U-23 squad will progress to be regular Caltex Socceroos in the next 12 months.

Arnold unveiled his 23-player squad for next month’s AFC U-23 Championship in Thailand, featuring 14 Hyundai A-League players and nine members based abroad.

It’s an important event for the Australian youngsters with the tournament also doubling as qualifiers for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Australia last qualified for the Olympic Games in 2008 and Arnold is confident this squad have the talent to end the 12-year drought.

Arnold says qualifying for the Olympics would be a huge feat and is adamant it will have a flow-on affect for the Caltex Socceroos in 2020.

“The research that I’ve done and presented to the [FFA] board and presented to the A-League owners shows that since 1992 – when the Olympics became a U23 competition –it’s produced six or seven top Socceroos,” Arnold told reporters on Monday.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Graham Arnold reveals U-23 squad bound for Bangkok
Q&A: Al Hassan Toure: ‘I want to let younger generations know that anything is possible’

“[Mark] Bresciano and [Vince] Grella didn’t play for the Socceroos until after they were Olympians.

“It’s the next phase in the journey for these kids to become Socceroos.

“I truly believe from what I’ve seen – and that’s why I took the job, to work and get to know them mentally – I truly believe that by the end of 2020 there will be five kids that will be part of the Socceroos squad."

The squad has a strong Hyundai A-League influence, headlined by the likes of Adelaide United starlet Al Hassan Toure, Western Sydney Wanderers’ Keanu Baccus, Brisbane Roar’s Aiden O’Neill and Melbourne City quartet Connor Metcalfe, Denis Genreau, Tom Glover and Ramy Najjarine.

It follows an increasing trend in the Hyundai A-League this season, with young players receiving plenty of minutes in 2019/20.

“I’ve seen some great performances from young Australians that are doing very well,” Arnold said.

“It’s funny, sometimes when [Hyundai A-League] clubs play the young Australians they win over the foreigners [playing] and winning.

“But it’s not about young boys playing in the A-League. They play in the A-League if they’re good enough.

The top three teams at the AFC U-23 Championship Thailand 2020 will join Japan as Asia’s representatives in the men’s football competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

THE JOURNEY SO FAR: Australia's U-23s eyeing AFC glory and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW: Ultimate guide to the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship
MORE: Hyundai A-League connections: 14 home-based stars called up for U-23 duty

Australia U-23 Men's National Team  Upcoming Fixtures

Australia U-23 v Korea Republic U-23 – International Friendly
Date: Friday, 3 January 2020
Venue: Stadium Bola Sepak, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kick-off: 5.00pm (local); 8.00pm (AEDT)
Note: Match to be played behind closed doors

Iraq U-23 v Australia U-23 – AFC U-23 Championship Thailand 2020
Date: Wednesday, 8 January 2020
Venue: Thammasat Stadium, Pathum Thani, Thailand
Kick-off: 5.15pm (local); 9.15pm (AEDT)
Click here for tickets
Broadcast: To be confirmed

Australia U-23 v Thailand U-23 – AFC U-23 Championship Thailand 2020
Date: Saturday, 11 January 2020
Venue: Rajamangala Stadium, Bangkok, Thailand
Kick-off: 8.15pm (local); 12.15am + 1 (Sunday, 12 January AEDT)
Click here for tickets
Broadcast: To be confirmed

Australia U-23 v Bahrain U-23 – AFC U-23 Championship Thailand 2020
Date: Tuesday, 14 January 2020
Venue: Thammasat Stadium, Pathum Thani, Thailand
Kick-off: 8.15pm (local); 12.15am +1 (Wednesday, 15 January AEDT)
Click here for tickets
Broadcast: To be confirmed