Interview - Graham Arnold

www.footballaustralia.com.au talks with Graham Arnold about the amazing night that took Australia to the World Cup finals for the first time in 32 years.

He endured four World Cup campaigns as a player and one as a coach that all ended in heartbreak, but it was sixth time lucky for Socceroos assistant coach Graham Arnold on November 16. He has played a vital role in the national team for the last six years, firstly as Frank Farina-s assistant and then staying on as Guus Hiddink-s right hand man, when the Dutchman took over in August of this year.

www.footballaustralia.com.au talks with Graham Arnold (pictured with actor John Travolta after the match) about the amazing night that took Australia to the World Cup finals for the first time in 32 years.

Has it sunk in yet that Australia is going to the World Cup finals next year in Germany?

It has now. The couple of days after the game were pretty hectic and pretty surreal, but once you get out amongst the public, which I haven-t been able to do until the last couple of days, they are all saying congratulations and well done and it soon sets in that we achieved a remarkable result against a high-powered nation in the world football.

What was the feeling like for you personally when John Aloisi-s penalty kick sailed into the back of the net?

Initially elation and then it was just a funny feeling, because it was elation for 10-15 minutes and then it was an empty feeling, it was like the adrenalin had rushed all out of me.

It wasn-t so much about me though, I was just so happy for the boys, because they are a good bunch of blokes and I believe this is the strongest group of players we-ve (Australia) ever had. It would have been criminal if players like Mark Viduka, Tony Vidmar, (Tony) Popovic, (Mark) Schwarzer and those types of guys, to never go to a World Cup, because they are definitely good enough.

Was there anytime during the match that you thought this was our game or perhaps vice-versa?

To be honest when Recoba missed that chance in the first half, I thought it might be our day. You normally have big moments in the game that change games that gave us life. The first 15-20 minutes we really struggled, I don-t know if it was the pressure that got to the players or it was just a slow start, because they warmed up tremendously well. That sort of gave us a kick along and when he missed it, I thought it-s a good chance for us.

I was only really, really nervous in the last 5 minutes of normal and extra time, because if they had scored in those times it was all over and you start thinking don-t do it now. They nearly did as well with Morales- shot and the free header as well. So there was enough little telling signs to say this must be our turn.

I felt the reason we qualified was the last 10-15 minutes in Uruguay, in the fact that that threw everything at us, bar the kitchen sink, trying to get the second and third goal to kill the tie. That was all the talk in Uruguay that they needed a two or three nil victory to kill the tie off.

What can you say about Mark Schwarzer?

Schwarzer has done it before in 1993 against Canada and he had a great game in Montevideo. He didn-t really have that much to do in Sydney, but at the end of the day he became our hero for the penalties he saved.

What do you think were the differences between the 2005 play-off win and the 2001 play-off loss to Uruguay?

As a playing group we were much more mature, there were players in 2001 that froze under the intensity, or under the intimidation over in Uruguay. This time they didn-t, because they had experienced it four years ago and that-s why I was happy to go back to Uruguay before the game.

But I think full credit has to be given to all the people that have worked behind the scenes. Logistically, the stability of the FFA with Frank Lowy, John O-Neill and John Boultbee involved, we left no stone unturned. We did a lot of scouting of the South American opposition, through Ronny Smith-s video analysis work we weren-t going in blind against any team. The fact we had Les Gelis and Anthony Crea living in London to be closer to the players to keep an eye on them helped out enormously, so there wasn-t pot luck situation on injuries or fitness this time.

Overall the organisation off the field really, I think, gave the players the belief that all they had to do was worry about going out and playing the game and there wasn-t all these other side issues off the field that could have become distractions.

How crucial was Guus Hiddink-s role in the victory and what personally did you learn from him?

I like to now, before we go any further, to give a wrap to Frank Farina. I think Frank left a huge legacy in place, so much so that it wouldn-t have been possible for Guus to come in and take over the reins in a part-time position. Guus had his full time job in Holland with PSV and the fact was he only worked really four times (camps, games), six days each with the players and it-s a full credit to players as well. They were able to adapt so quickly to what we wanted from them.

Guus obviously brought in a lot of experience of a 59-year old coach, who has been in plenty of big and tournaments before. He also brought a calm atmosphere into the group and that is probably one thing that I did learn off him, was how to relax the group. Tactically, we sat down and went through all the different scenarios, so I had three or four scenarios in my pocket including the penalty shootout on game night. So we were prepared the night before for whatever happened and that was also something I learned that you always prepare for all scenario-s the night before, when your emotion is down. It is hard to think of certain things when emotions are high during a game, so you always have something to refer back to when you have been thinking clearly the night before and you make sure you stick by that.

How much did the amazing support help on Wednesday night?

The second leg at home is always an advantage. Statistics on two-legged matches show that the team at home second is about 70% a better chance of going through. I think you can put the victory in the penalty shootout down to the crowd. It-s not a very comfortable feeling as an opposition player when you are walking up to take a penalty in front of 80,000 people who are all booing you, its quite eerie. On the other hand, when our boys went up there was either cheering or silence, so the crowd had a massive part and I think this time also, the fact we were only in the country for two days, because of the monkey that has been on our back for 32 years, it was good to be in Argentina away from all the publicity and the hype surrounding the game and let the players concentrate on their job and took quite a bit of the pressure off.

Did you think the crowd was more knowledgeable as well?

I think the press played a big part in that, because they getting the message across on how badly we were treated over in Uruguay in 2001. People don-t forget that. I think the FFA made a great decision in getting everyone emotionally involved by asking them to wear green and gold jerseys to the grounds and making them feel a part of it. Mark Viduka and Frank Farina coming out and saying the crowd needed to be boisterous and loud to help cheer them on, had a huge part to play.

You appeared very confident prior to the matches that we would qualify. Was this an honest assessment or a tactic to keep the players in a confident frame of mind?

Two reasons. First reason, I wanted the players to read my comments and to give them confidence that we were definitely a good chance. But after I went across to watch them (Uruguay) live, sometimes when you watch games on video, the games can look faster or doesn-t tell you the real story, I was even more confident. The fact I went and watched the game live, tactically what I saw, was some good possibilities for us. It gave me a lot of confidence. The fact they played with the four up front who didn-t like defending one bit, gave us a lot of room in midfield.

Overall, I thought our mobility would hurt them, because we had a very fast and mobile side. I walked away from the Argentina/Uruguay game with a lot of belief that we could do it, but I still thought and passed the message on that it would all come down to the game in Uruguay, where I felt they would try and blow us out of the water. Luckily for us, a few things for us went our way over there and Schwarzer had a wonderful game, as did all the defenders.

How important was the charter flight in the overall scheme of things?

It was massive. Even though it was the same length of time flying wise, the fact was we could walk around the plane and control the environment on the plane with sleeping times, lights out, not getting disrupted, massage tables and the good recovery where the players could spread out in the plane. It was a massive advantage and I think Qantas can take a huge wrap for helping us out, they were fantastic, they did everything possible to help us achieve our dreams and I know the players respected that enormously.

What-s the one thing that sticks in your mind from last Wednesday night-s game at Telstra Stadium?

Probably John Aloisi after he scored, running up the sideline with his shirt off and all the players chasing him and they couldn-t catch him. I think what it gave the nation and what it has given a lot of good soccer people that have been patient over the last 32 years, as they have had a lot of major disappointments. It was their night as well, because they have wonderful supporters over the years.

I know the players were very appreciative of the wonderful support we got and I don-t think I-ll ever forget the amount of yellow shirts in the stadium, as it even made the air looked like it was yellow. It was just a wonderful night overall and thankfully we came out with the win.

What was the first thing you said to Guus?

I can-t remember to be honest. He was rapt for all of us. The first time I met him I told him what a dedicated group of players he would have to the cause and how committed they would be. I think the longer that he was with us, the more he could see how it meant to the nation and he was just happy for Australia overall that finally we had done it, because he loves the Australian mentality and attitudes, especially the sporting stars that we have, with the never say die attitude. I know he says this team was a dream to coach, because they are very coachable and there is no precious players there.

What is your immediate schedule? Do you have a break or is it basically ‘no rest for the wicked-?

I have got to go across to the draw in Germany on December 9, see who is in our pool group and then start chasing DVD-s and having a look at them. Again we can-t just turn up there and go, well we are at the World Cup, let-s go. I know Guus will want to go there and be successful, as do all of us. He has been there twice and got two teams to the semi finals and I know he would love to do it again. I think we can go there and surprise a few people.

Finally, do you have any dream clashes you would like to have at the World Cup?

I think if there is a bit of faith, we could end up with Holland and South Korea for Guus. We always seem to draw Argentina in big tournaments, but I would love to come up against England. I think that it would be great and very, very exciting for this nation if we did. 

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